The trafficking of human beings is the world’s second largest, fastest growing organised crime. It is estimated that 2 million women and children are sold into sexual slavery every year. The Asia Pacific region (which includes South Asia) has the largest number of victims where children as young as three can be sold for as little as $100 and forced to serve up to 30 clients per day.
Living here in Australia it can be hard to grasp that this is the reality for so many. Forced into lives of suffering, enduring the daily horror of rape, torture and abuse with no hope of escape or a different life.
But one woman, Somaly Mam, did escape and has gone on to rescue thousands of girls from this nightmare and give them a future.
Somaly’s life began in extreme poverty in Cambodia, orphaned at a young age she was sold into sexual slavery at twelve by a man she called ‘grandfather’.
She was forced to work in a brothel along with many other woman and children who were treated horrifically, manipulated with torture and rape. One night, she was made to watch as her best friend was viciously murdered. Somaly knew then that she could no longer ‘keep her silence’ and she managed to escape her captors.
She vowed never to forget those she left behind and has dedicated her life’s work to saving victims, building shelters and programs for healing and empowering survivors to become agents of change. The result was AFESIP (Action for Women in Distressing Situations) an organisation that has transformed the lives of thousands of victims of the illegal trade since its inception in 1996. AFESIP uses a holistic approach that ensures victims not only escape their plight, but have the emotional and economic strength to face the future with hope.
In 2007 the Somaly Mam Foundation was set up to raise awareness, campaign for change and fund anti-trafficking organisations and projects to rescue and rehabilitate women and children sold into slavery. Somaly estimates that she and her team have assisted over 7,000 victims to date.
Somaly Mam is regarded as one of the most prolific activists fighting sexual slavery today but it has come at a terrible personal cost. Her life has been threatened by traffickers and brothel owners and in 2006, her then 14-year-old daughter was kidnapped and raped by three men, as retaliation for the work her mother does.
Yet she continues.
Somaly Mam is coming to Australia this month. In conjunction with Project Futures she will be hosting a number of events and speaking engagements for people to learn more about her and the work of the Foundation, raising much needed funds.
This is truly an inspirational woman. Voted Time Magazine’s 100 most influential People 2009, Glamour Magazine’s 2006 Woman of the Year Award, one of Fortune Magazine’s Most Powerful Women in 2011, one of Fast Company’s 2012 League of Extraordinary Women – Somaly’s work has been recognised globally.
If you are interested in attending seeing her while she is in the country please check her itinerary here.
The Fish Chick would like to acknowledge the courage and tenacity of Somaly Mam this Thank You Thursday and her work through the Somaly Mam Foundation. What an amazing woman!
See you in the pond,
The Fish Chick