In My Pain, I Am Stronger Than I Ever Was

Somaly Mam
Human slavery is real, and it’s going to take everybody’s help to break the cycle!

I’m here to tell you that sex trafficking is getting worse. It’s difficult to believe this can be happening in 2009. In my country of Cambodia and around the world, sex traffickers live off of the desperate lives of the poor and vulnerable. With the world economic crisis, poverty and crime have skyrocketed and protections that barely existed before the crisis have yet to make a difference. To make matters worse, my country is still in a daze from the days of the Khmer Rouge and the killing fields. Criminals put 5-year old girls outside brothels, and little is done. Girls who get saved have three other girls take their place. It’s these realities that I’m facing every day as I struggle to make a difference with the programs that we’ve established to fight back and save young victims.

Even when it feels like we’re swimming against the tide, every life that we save makes it all worth it for me. I’m living my life to do everything that I can to see sexual slavery stopped for good. As a survivor I feel like I have a duty to protect and rescue other girls from the horrors that I faced.

In my pain, I am stronger than I ever was. In my pain, I am here to break the cycle of silence that in my country and around the world allows these crimes to go on and a criminal industry to thrive from the misery of young women and children. A culture of silence and shame is the life that I left behind when I escaped from the brothels.

Survivors are part of the solution. When I established the Somaly Mam Foundation, I wanted to make sure that our programs recognize the critical role that survivors can play in eradicating human slavery. Voices for Change is a program that we launched to identify and train survivors who want to join me in getting our stories and anti-trafficking messages out to communities and the world.

These survivors realize, as I did, that if they had known about what was going on, their lives could have been very different. It’s their stories that are helping poor families recognize that a con for a better life is really the empty promise of an unscrupulous sex trafficker looking for a new victim. It’s their voices that are helping bring attention to the crimes of modern day slavery and forcing governments to take meaningful action. It’s their stories that are educating people about these harsh realities and motivating them to spread the word and help raise the money to rescue and heal survivors. It’s the voices and courage of survivors that are helping other young victims see that they can stand up and reclaim their lives, not in shame but with self confidence and self determination.

You’ve probably heard people say that it takes a village to make a difference. It’s going to take the actions of the villagers, the voices and the strength of survivors, and the involvement and outcry from citizens of the world to end human trafficking and sexual slavery.

Please visit to learn more about my efforts and how you can help us end modern day slavery.

-Somaly Mam


Published in: on October 2, 2009 at 9:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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Activist Somaly Mam stills ballroom with stories of human trafficking

Activist and author Somaly Mam signs a copy of her book for a student at UCF on Monday night.
In a room of nearly 200 chairs, there was not an empty seat. There were people standing, watching, all along the walls, trailing out the doors and into the halls, all gathered to hear the story of one woman.

In the UCF Student Union Cape Florida Ballroom Monday night, Somaly Mam, author of “The Road of Lost Innocence,” spoke to this crowd about her fight to end human trafficking in her country, Cambodia.

Like Mam, many Cambodian women and girls are sold as sex slaves to brothels because of the severe poverty in the country. When families need money they give up their girls, many still pre-pubescent, and some as young as 4 or 5 years old. She said these girls grow up without a sense of love or family.

“I don’t know my name, I don’t know my parents, I don’t know my age,” said Mam, who sat in a black office chair. Because of the sensitive nature of the subject discussed, rather than give Mam a podium to stand on, the room was set up for a quiet, intimate, studio-type conversation.

In Cambodia, Mam always dreamed of being part of a family, and thought she had found one when a man offered to be her grandfather when she was a young teen. Instead of love he physically and sexually abused her, and soon sold her to a brothel. Mam spoke about the dangers of living in the brothel and how difficult it was to escape. Some girls who tried to leave, including one of her friends, were murdered.

Girls who are raped in the brothels are rejected by their families and are made to believe that they caused the abuser to attack. Mam said that girls could not understand why anyone would leave the brothel.

“They ask why escape from the brothel? Who would love you, who would give you life? People don’t understand,” said Mam.

Mam was a rare case. After escaping the brothel, she helped found the Agir Pour les Femmes en Situation Précaire (AFESIP), which translated in English means “Acting for Women in Distressing Circumstances.” AFESIP is dedicated to stopping sex trafficking by setting up rehabilitation and reintegration centers in Cambodia. She later teamed with American human rights activists to establish the Somaly Mam Foundation, a charity that also works to combat trafficking.

Human trafficking is an acute problem worldwide. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2009 “Trafficking in Persons Report,” 1.39 million children and adults are victims of commercial sexual servitude, with 56 percent of these victims being women and girls. While trafficking occurs all over the world, it is a particularly bad problem in Southeast Asia, according to the report, especially in countries such as Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Bill Livermore, executive director of Somaly Mam Foundation, said it’s difficult fighting trafficking in a country like Cambodia because the citizens don’t see why the women should be helped.

“The biggest challenge is that we don’t empower women. Women are treated like a legal minority,” said Livermore. “If we can champion that, if we can move that benchmark up, it will have a dramatic impact on trafficking.”

Livermore said that the foundation has had significant help in raising money in areas of the U.S. where sex trafficking has become an issue.

“The most critical thing is to raise awareness about the issue,” said Livermore. “Governments will not change unless they are embarrassed into changing. If none of you gave us a penny but you committed to telling five of your friends [about what’s happening] that would make us even happier.”

Stephanie Nicholas, freshman and political science major, learned about human trafficking after reading Mam’s book. When she discovered Mam was coming to UCF to speak she said she had to go, and she even brought two friends along. After obtaining her law degree, Nicholas wants to do pro bono work with victims of trafficking.

“I want to hear her story, from her point of view,” said Nicholas, inspired by Mam’s experiences. “No matter where you come from and no matter what people do to you, you can still make something of your life.”


Published in: on September 23, 2009 at 7:06 am  Leave a Comment  
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A means to an end

sex trafficking
Girls and women are kept in steel cages in dark back alley slums until eager men are escorted in, pick one out and then give money to have sex with them on tattered cots.

This is reality for over 55,000 young women in Cambodia that are trapped in sexual slavery. It is estimated that 35 percent of those girls are younger than 16 years old.

Vintage On Campus, a student Christian group, is trying to end sex trafficking in Cambodia. They are teaming with Agape International Missions, which has a station in Asia where sex trafficking is most prevalent.

On Sept. 16, VOC held an event in the Student Union to raise awareness and money to help stop human sex trafficking in Cambodia. Members of VOC also rocked on a giant seesaw for one-hour timeslots.

“The seesaw was mainly to catch people’s eyes and have them come over,” said Jay Perillo, VOC’s campus minister. “But we also wanted to get the message across that we were ‘tipping the scales of injustice.’”

Many students milled around the event last Wednesday, where there were plenty of brochures, pamphlets and literature to read about the event. VOC also offered Web sites, like Agape International Mission’s Web site,, where people can make donations.

VOC also supplied orange bracelets, claiming that orange is the color of freedom. The group encouraged students to wear the color to show that they are a part of finding an end to sex trafficking.

“We need to do whatever we can to stop human trafficking,” Perillo said.

Along with the money raised by the VOC members and their sponsors, Perillo estimates that donations brought in over $1,000. All of the proceeds will go directly to AIM’s site to help rescue young girls who are sex slaves.

According to Perillo, AIM helps those who are enslaved by pulling them out of the alleys, educating them, and giving them food, shelter and safety in its Restoration Center in Cambodia. The program also provides therapy and spiritual guidance to the traumatized victims.

“[AIM] is a great organization and we want to help them in whatever way we can,” Perillo said.

According to its Web site, AIM has helped thousands of people and has opened over 600 churches in Cambodia since its inception in 1988 in California.

AIM also provides financial support, disaster relief, medical supplies and personnel.

The VOC is relatively new to UB. It was started in the spring 2009 semester. Dave Ashby, a UB alumnus and head of the set-up and teardown team, hopes that the VOC will make a difference with the sex trafficking in Cambodia.

“The VOC would like to eventually expand and do mission trips and raise more money,” Ashby said.

Ashby raised money and sat on the seesaw for an hour with a fellow member of the VOC.

“I wish I could have raised more, but I’m glad that I was able to help,” he said.

VOC would like to put together more events to help end sex trafficking not only in Cambodia, but also all over the world.

“I hope that VOC will expand over the next few years so that we can have more support on campus and so that we can raise more money for all the people that we want to help,” Ashby said.


Published in: on September 21, 2009 at 8:02 am  Leave a Comment  
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Operation Twisted Traveler

operation-twisted-travelerEric Peeters, 41 & Jack Sporich,75

A Norwalk man and two others landed at Los Angeles International Airport on Monday and walked straight into the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

Erik Peeters, 41, of Norwalk, Ronald Boyajian, 49, of Menlo Park, and Jack Sporich, 75, of Sedona, Ariz., were the first three men charged with sexually exploiting children in Cambodia under a recent federal enforcement initiative called Operation Twisted Traveler.

Although other Californians have been caught and tried for sex crimes in Southeast Asia before, the three are the first snared under the new program.

The three men, who have been previously convicted of sex offenses in the U.S., face up to 30 years per charge if convicted. The trio are charged under the 2003 PROTECT Act, which strengthened laws related to predatory crimes committed by Americans outside of the United States.

The three were arrested by the Cambodian National Police and were detained before being expelled and placed under the supervision of ICE agents.

They are scheduled to appear in federal court today.

While Cambodians arrested for crimes in the United States are subject to prosecution and sentencing here before expulsion, an agreement between Cambodian and U.S. authorities allows the men to be sent to the U.S. for prosecution.

This is important because, according to Jeffrey Blom of the International Justice Mission, a nongovernment organization
that helps gather evidence against sex criminals in foreign countries, some foreigners convicted of crimes in Cambodia have been able to bribe their way out of prosecution or sentencing.

Peeters is accused of engaging in sex with at least three Cambodian boys, including a 12-year-old, since his arrival there in May 2008.

Boyajian allegedly had sex with a 10-year-old Vietnamese girl in a notorious sex-trafficking area outside of Phnom Penh called Kilo-11. And Sporich is alleged to have sexually abused at least one Cambodian boy.

A joint effort by ICE and the Department of Justice working with Cambodian police and nongovernment organizations in Cambodia, Operation Twisted Traveler seeks to identify and prosecute so-called “sex tourists,” who travel to Cambodia and Southeast Asia to engage in sex with children.

Calling Cambodia “ground zero” for sex tourism, U.S. Attorney Thomas O’Brien said with the help of Cambodian officials the United States was providing a new emphasis in the country.

Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for ICE, said the cooperation with Cambodian police is a new and unprecedented development, and Robert Schoch, special agent in charge for ICE, said the cooperation has allowed the U.S. to take a proactive stance in seeking out sex offenders in Cambodia. He added that the U.S. has been working with local officials on investigation and evidence-gathering techniques that will strengthen cases in U.S. courts.

In Long Beach, the news of the arrests was well-received.

Sara Pol-Lim, executive director of the United Cambodian Community, said many Cambodian immigrant parents in the United States worry for their minor children who had to stay behind for various reasons.

Zeshan Khan, who is part of the Stella Link Children’s Foundation, a nonprofit that works to fight the exploitation of Cambodians for illicit sex, said he hopes events such as Monday’s announcement will help continue to shine light on an ongoing problem in Cambodia.

John Morton, Homeland Security assistant secretary for ICE, issued a warning to would-be sex tourists.

“To those American travelers who abuse other people’s children, no matter where you go, we will follow you to the ends of the earth if need be,” he said. “We will find you, and we will prosecute you.”


Published in: on September 17, 2009 at 8:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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