Somaly Mam

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 May, 2011, 12:00am


SPEAKING OUT Twenty years ago, I never dreamt I could talk to people. No one listened to me. The first time I was raped [aged 12], I wanted to talk but I couldn't talk. I kept too much silence in my life, so now is my time to speak. [In the brothel] we never knew what was the daytime, what was the night, because we were in a cage. When you refuse to have a client, they put you in a cage with scorpions and snakes. Sometimes you can die by these scorpions. If you make a big mistake, in another cage there is dirty water, so they put you with no clothes in this water. When there was a client, they just brought us out.

When I was in the brothel, I never had the idea to get out. We could not, because our minds were broken, completely broken. We didn't know what 'your life' means. We knew nothing. As victims, we had no confidence, no confidence at all. One day, a friend of mine was killed in front of me. That was the day I escaped, that I ran away from the brothel. I ran away not to escape, but to take a gun and come and kill them. Helping another is helping myself. My story, I don't regret it, because if I didn't have this story, I couldn't stand up today and save many girls.

HEALING SCARS To save the girls can take five years. It's not easy. You have to be patient. You just love them first, with no conditions. When you have a scar outside you can go to the doctor, you can operate on it, make it disappear. But a scar in the heart, how can you operate on that? By your patience, compassion and loving them, you can heal them. At the same time, you need psychology, you need counselling, you need meditation, you need yoga, you need everything, because they are completely broken. I don't want to talk more about that, [it's in] the book.

WRITING THE BOOK I never wanted to write [The Road of Lost Innocence, Mam's memoir]. It was 2004, I thought I was going to die because we had saved 98 girls from a big brothel in the night. That day, the military police came and took the girls and killed eight of them, and beat and hit my staff. A friend from the government called me and said, 'Somaly, you're going to die this time' [following threats from traffickers]. I don't want to die without letting people know about my life, what a victim's life is like.

SAVING CHILDREN [One] three-year-old kid, we just saved her. We brought her to the hospital to operate on her vagina and I know [her] pain. Pain outside, but also pain inside. I just ask the question, 'How can people do these bad things?' Oh my God, yes, I want to kill them. I think day by day I have to learn with the girls. Every day in the centre, I teach them, 'Honey, forgive them. If you forgive the people, it's not for these people, it's for yourself. Erase it, take it out, make your heart better.' One girl, when she was born, her father became blind so her mother told her she was very bad luck. She was raped, quite young, sold to a brothel by her own mother because she was bad luck. We saved her when she was seven years old. She was with us 10 years. Last year, she went back to the family. Her mother came back and tried to sell her again. She committed suicide. She wrote [to me]: 'I know that you tried very hard to help me. But I don't want my mom to sell me again and again.'

Seven thousand girls have been saved from the brothels. And now, in the centre, I have more than 200 girls. They are so beautiful. They are so great. We have three centres. In one of them, they are three years old to 16 years old. At the other two centres, they are from 16 years old to 22. One girl, we saved her when she was seven years old. She is going to law school. What I want is to empower them so that the survivors can be part of the solution. Who can talk better than us? We need to talk now. We don't want to keep silent. I want them to be the boss; I want them to replace me. I really want to see them in court, punishing the clients, [saying], 'I'm here now, to punish you.' Showing the people, 'I'm not a bad luck girl, look at me today, I'm a lawyer.' That is my dream.

CHANGING MINDS The [Cambodian] government, right now, they are good. In 2008, they passed a law to punish the brothel owners. It's still very corrupt but the government, they try their best. The government is poor, they don't have money. When we have all the information, we go to the police. In Cambodia, we have the anti-trafficking police. We file a complaint, we go to the court and then we save the girl. We have 12 survivors who go into the community talking with the people, with the mothers, telling them, 'Don't sell your kids.' Seventy per cent of those who traffic girls are women. A lot of brothel owners are women. But some of them, they were victims before and now they become owners. My brothel owner, she was a woman. The one who was hitting us, she was a woman. We have a group of men who go to the clients, talking to the clients, bringing the real story, the reality to the clients. And some clients have stopped. So we have hope.

My mission today is loving the girls and saving them. If I can save one today, I'm happy in my life.

The Somaly Mam Foundation was established to fight sexual slavery and to rescue and rehabilitate sex slaves around the world. For more information, visit