Somaly Mam: The Holy Saint (and Sinner) of Sex Trafficking
Monday, June 2, 2014
Nestled on the banks of the Mekong River, Thloc Chhroy looks like the typical rural Cambodian village. Mango trees thick with fruit are everywhere. Fishermen cast their nets from small motorboats. Elders lounge in hammocks, while children on bikes too big for them bounce along rutted dirt tracks.
But this is no ordinary village. Every now and then, a shiny four-wheel drive bounces down the dirt track that leads to a refuge center of an organization whose name in French is Agir Pour Les Femmes en Situation Précaire, or AFESIP. (Rough translation: Helping Women in Danger.) Inside the vehicle you may spot a powerful government official, a heavyweight journalist or even an American movie star. They all come to meet with AFESIP’s president and co-founder, Somaly Mam, and support her courageous work fighting sex traffickers.
Mam is one of the world’s most compelling activists, brave and beautiful, and her list of supporters is long and formidable. Former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton and actresses Meg Ryan, Susan Sarandon and Shay Mitchell, as well as New York Times Pulitzer-winning columnist Nicholas Kristof, have all toured AFESIP centers in Cambodia. Queen Sofia of Spain has for years promoted Mam’s cause and even visited her in the hospital last year when she fell ill. Mark Zuckerberg’s former PR guru, Brandee Barker, whom The New York Times recently described as “perhaps the most sought-after image consultant in the startup world,” is a board member for the Somaly Mam Foundation, and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg is an advisory board member.