Born in Cambodia around 1970 (estimate) Somaly Mam was born into a world of consternation. In 1975 the dictatorship of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge terrorized Cambodia, in the end killing approximately one-quarter of the country’s population. As a result, Somaly was left orphaned and alone. An older man came to her ‘rescue’, but he was not rescuing her at all. In lieu of a promise to find her father, he held her in bonded slavery and then at 14 years old, she was sold to a member of the Khmer Rouge as a young bride. As his wife she was forced to prostitute herself.
With the help of a French Aid worker, Somaly escaped Cambodia and moved to France where she married. However, she knew that there were many women in Cambodia who needed help. She returned to Cambodia as a nurse working with Doctors without Borders. In her spare time she would pass out information and supplies to women in brothels.
Somaly went on to become a founder of a Cambodian NGO to help rehabilitate victims of sex trafficking and in 1997 she began the Somaly Mam Foundation to support anti-trafficking groups and helps women and girls who have been forced into sexual slavery.