Former Southeast Asian Sex Slave Somaly Mam Fights For Sex Slaves


Somaly Mam doesn't know her birthday. She has no clue what her real name might be, or if she even has one.

Somaly also doesn't know what her age was - though she reckons she was 8 or 9 - on the day she was sold into sexual slavery. She does remember, with complete clarity, the moment she vowed to murder her pimp.

It was the night the guy gathered all his little girl prostitutes into a room and told them to tie up one of his slaves. Then, he shot her in the head.

She was Somaly's best friend.

"I'm the only one not crying," Somaly told me, and her gaze became stern, as if she can see the man's face. "I just looked at him. I decided that I would marry a rich man, get a gun and kill him."

But Somaly didn't kill the pimp. Instead, she dedicated her life to saving little girls, like her, forced into the sex trade. Some are as young as 4 years old.

That's how she's getting her vengeance.

I met Somaly Mam last week at a Midtown restaurant to hear a tale of deprivation that seems unfathomable to American ears. Most of us would prefer not to know.

But Somaly will tell her tale, over and over if necessary, because she just started an American charity - the Somaly Mam Foundation. With a Web site, somaly.org, it raises money to save girls.

And now, the story nobody wanted to hear is getting the Hollywood treatment. A movie about the Southeast Asian slave trade, "Holly," opens Nov. 9.

Somaly figures she's now in her late 30s - a trim, gorgeous woman who looks like she could have once been a model.

She was a street child, abandoned at birth. She was beaten and tortured. Finally, an old man posing as her grandfather sold her to a brothel. She lost the capacity to feel pain.

But she survived. At age 18 or 19, Somaly was deemed too old to be a prostitute and allowed to leave the brothel. She has since married, moved to France and had three children, though she is now divorced.

In the mid-'90s, she went back to Cambodia and opened her home to young girls. She now runs three shelters, where girls learn skills like hair-cutting.

Somaly came to America with a girl of 15, Srey Pov.

Srey's childhood ended at age 7, when her mother sold her for $20. At age 10, Somaly rescued her.

On Wednesday, Srey went trick-or-treating for the first time in her life.

Somaly will not quit. Not until every little girl gets a shot at childhood.

Not until every little girl gets a chance.

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