I have been absorbed this week in the ‘Outlook 2013′ roundup from the The World Futurist Society, its annual mind blowing forecasts. Although futurist forecasts’ are intended to provoke thought and discussion, always a good thing for society, one forecast which turned my head and not in a good way was an outlook listed in the ‘business and economics’ section of the report that a possible future scenario is for sex workers in developed countries to become more responsible for their own branding…The roundup goes on to say “with more technologies available to sex workers to work as entrepreneurs, sex workers will likely adapt to retailing trends such as collective discounts, online reviews and strategic partnerships. It is forecast that by 2030, mainstream companies will increasingly invest in pornography (such as purchasing product placements) and even sponsor sex workers. Source: Emily Emped, “The future of the Commercial Sex Industry, ” May – June 2012, p.39. You have got to be joking….I was appalled. The sex industry is globally acknowledged for it’s abuse of human rights and any future which suggests a possible alignment by any company with such serves only to exploit in many instances the voiceless, those who have been trafficked, held against their will and forced, often using unimaginable violence into compliance. This sort of scenario has no place in our society and the work of advocates in this challenging area of human rights requires greater mainstream support. So today’s post is dedicated to an amazing woman, we first connected with late last year, Somaly Mam.
Human Rights activist Somaly Mam will visit Australia next month. Sold into slavery by a man posing as her grandfather Somaly will visit Sydney and Melbourne, November 8-18 to encourage people to stamp out human trafficking in Australia and throughout South-East Asia. If you get an opportunity to hear her speak at one of her Australian appearances, do so. This is a Brave Discussion that must occur no matter how unsavoury it is. It cannot be solved easily and requires the #powerofWE
This will be Somaly’s third visit to Australia, each time being brought out by anti-human trafficking charity PROJECT FUTURES. Her trip will focus on human trafficking being an important global issue which is also a reality in some brothels of Australian cities.
Somaly Mam has been described as a ‘modern day Mother Theresa’. Suffering a tormented childhood being sold into slavery in Cambodia at just 12 years old, Somaly was taken through brothels of South-East Asia where she suffered brutality and horrors of human trafficking until she managed to escape with the help of a French aid worker. Although freed, she has since dedicated her life to saving victims and empowering survivors.
She set up her own charity to help the girls in brothels, distributed birth control as a precaution against the AIDS virus, started schools and founded an organization that so far saved more than 7000 women and children in Cambodia, Thailand Vietnam and Laos.
Somaly Mam is now cofounder and president of the AFESIP (Acting for Women in Distressing Circumstances) and the Somaly Mam Foundations. She is also author of The Road of Lost Innocence which tells her story. She is brought to Australia by Project Futures a Sydney based, non-profit organisation run by a network of young professionals to raise awareness with funds dedicated to combat human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Australia and South-East Asia.
Her book The Road of Lost Innocence, with a forward from New York Times columnist and reporter Nicholas Kristof, recounts the experiences of the former child sex slave and anti-trafficking activist from her early life, when she was sold as a child into sexual slavery, to her eventual escape and awakening as an activist. She has orchestrated raids on brothels and rescued sex workers, some as young as five and six; she has built shelters, started schools, and founded an organization that has so far saved more than four thousand women and children in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. Her memoir left me awestruck by her tenacity and courage and does indeed renew your faith in the power of an individual to bring about change.
Born to a tribal minority family in the Mondulkiri province of Cambodia, Somaly Mam began life in extreme poverty. With limited options as a severely marginalized ethnic group, and living in unimaginable despair, her family often resorted to desperate means to survive. This confluence of dire circumstances led to the unspeakable horrors that would mark Somaly’s early years. Somaly was sold into sexual slavery by a man who posed as her grandfather. To this day, due to the passing of time and the unreliability of a wounded memory, Somaly still does not know who this man was to her. Yet his actions set her on an unimaginable path fraught with danger, desperation, and ultimately…triumph.
Forced to work in a brothel along with other children, Somaly was brutally tortured and raped on a daily basis. One night, she was made to watch as her best friend was viciously murdered. Fearing she would meet that same fate, Somaly heroically escaped her captors and set about building a new life for herself. She vowed never to forget those left behind and has since dedicated her life to saving victims and empowering survivors.
In 1996, Somaly established a Cambodian non-governmental organization called AFESIP (Agir Pour les Femmes en Situation Precaire). Under Somaly’s leadership, AFESIP employs a holistic approach that ensures victims not only escape their plight, but have the emotional and economic strength to face the future with hope. With the launch of The Somaly Mam Foundation in 2007, Somaly has established a funding vehicle to support organizations against human trafficking and to provide victims and survivors with a platform from which their voices can be heard around the world.
For her tireless efforts, Somaly has justifiably garnered world-wide respect and is now a renowned leader at the forefront of the anti-trafficking struggle. Universally recognized as a visionary for her courage, dignity, ingenuity, and resilience, Somaly was honored as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2009 and was featured as a CNN Hero. She is also the recipient of the Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation, The World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child (WCPRC), Glamour Magazine’s 2006 Woman of the Year Award, and has won accolades from the US Department of Homeland Security.
But Somaly’s success has come at a price. She and her family have faced terrifying death threats and violence. Asked why she continues to fight in the face of such fierce and frightening opposition, Somaly resolutely responds, “I don’t want to go without leaving a trace.”
Despite the fact that she is known the world over and has certainly earned a life of luxury and repose, Somaly continues to work hard in the Cambodian recovery centers, living among the women and children she rescues and staying by their side as they walk the difficult path to recovery and freedom.
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