People We Love: Somaly Mam

Cambodian sex trafficking survivor Somaly Mam rescues girls from brothels—and offers them a second life.
Somaly Mam

Sold into sex slavery at age 12, Somaly Mam endured 10 years of violence before she managed to escape Cambodia’s underworld of forced prostitution. Then she returned to liberate other girls. After finding refuge in France, Mam returned to Cambodia as a Doctors Without Borders worker to provide care to women in the same network of brothels she had escaped.

Today Mam leads police raids into the brothels of Phnom Penh, where she rescues girls— some as young as 7—and helps them reclaim their lives. Her three centers in Phnom Penh offer community support, education, and job training to about 500 girls and women. In total, she has rescued about 7,000.

Mam is now a widely recognized spokesperson against sex trafficking and receives international support through the Somaly Mam Foundation. She uses Twitter most days to urge action, and to acknowledge the girls’ milestones: arrivals, friendships, graduations. “They are teaching each other how to be strong,” she writes.