Image credit: DR
Born in rural Cambodia, Somaly Mam survived an extraordinarily abusive childhood. As an orphan in the war-torn country, she was sold to a brothel by the family she lived with, where she saw girls get chained, caged and beaten and she was forced to have sex with as many as six men a day.
The defining moment of her life came when Somaly watched an abusive pimp kill her best friend. She looked the dying girl in the eye and decided to risk her life by escaping; if she made it, she would help others to break free too.
Somaly did find freedom and founded a rescue organization, Acting for Women in Distressing Situations (AFESIP), which saves girls from brothels in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. At her centers, her life is under constant threat from the brothel owners, helps the girls heal emotionally and physically as many of them have HIV. She works with these women to try to help integrate them back into society. Under her leadership, AFESIP have rescued 4,000 girls and women over the past decade. She received the prestigous Principe of Asturias Price for Internation Cooperation in 1998, and in 2006 she as named a CNN Hero and a GLAMOUR Woman of the Year. Most recently, Somaly Mam was honored with the Roland Berger Human Dignity Award in Berlin, Germany.
Somaly now lives in Cambodia with her three children.