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Somaly Mam at the Somaly Mam Hearts and Hands Gala: ‘You are all my Heroes.’

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Alexa Winner

Photos courtesy of PMC. Somaly Mam, Susan Sarandon.

Last night saw a retinue of celebrities and conscientious revelers pay homage to the tireless efforts of Somaly Mam and her enduring fight to rescue, rehabilitate and nurture young Cambodian women who have either been sold or kidnapped into sex slavery in her native Cambodia.

There to lend Somaly Mam kindred support was the sprightly looking Susan Sarandon (who has somehow managed to defy gravity and increasingly looks beautiful as the years go by…) who met Mam at the Torino Winter Olympics in 2006 and from there a cause was made to bring sustenance to exploited young women.

With appalling mention of detail that the world sex slavery generates up to $1 billion dollars annually and that sadly up to 1 in 40 young girls in Cambodia end up in forced sex slavery.

Bill Livermore, the fund’s CEO went on to mention that unlike most charities 80 % of the funds collected (upwards of $500 000 was raised last night)made their way to the young women who often spend many years emotionally repressed and violated even if no longer in forced captivity, a haunting note as 6 young Cambodian girls hauntingly recounted their journey.

For this author the highlight came when Somaly Mam paused and looked into the darkness beyond her and exclaimed to the audience dining – ‘You are all my heroes.’ The thundering applause served to remind us that where there is a will there is a way, despite the ongoing ominous behavior of the Cambodian government which has effectively sanctioned an ongoing cycle that needs to be quashed. Let’s hope the current administration applies some much needed dialogue and follow through in this tenuous matter.

Alexa Winner

  • Anna Loc

    I have information that underaged girls were asked by Somaly to dance at recent fundraising events, including this one. My question: Is it ethical for organizations to engage underaged victims of sexual abuse in fundraising activities? How is it possible for these women to give informed consent when senior management of the organization housing them asks them to participate in such events?

  • Former fan

    Very disappointing Susan Sarandon. How superficial must you be?

  • Michelle

    Elizabeth Pisani (epidemiologist) also wrote about these same issues, and AFESIP (Somaly Mam’s org), in her book which critiqued HIV/AIDS programs’ failures. Her book is called The Wisdom of Whores.

    Somaly Mam has a noble idea but the execution of it tramples on the rights of consenting sex workers with few other avenues of survival and money….as human rights groups and Pisani note.

  • The NGO centre referred to in the Human Rights Watch report- link in an above comment- was AFESIP., Somaly’s centre. It was named in a previous draft of the report, but the name was deleted in the final report.

  • Christopher- I emailed you a reply agreeing to the interview but never heard back from you

  • Michelle

    I also want to back up the earlier criticisms of Somaly Mam’s practices in Cambodia. Her project has some problems with execution and the information on why is available if one is interested in finding out why:

    http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2010/07/20/streets-0

    ttp://www.phnompenhpost.com/index.php/2010102744329/National-news/groups-blast-us-sex-work-policies.html

    http://www.phnompenhpost.com/index.php/2010102644294/National-news/a-union-for-prostitutes.html

    http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2010/10/making_sex_work_safe

  • cheryl overs

    This woman Somaly Mom is profiteering from a sickening combination of human misery in Cambodia and misguided but genuine concern in America. I dont understand why these Americans with so many resources dont look into what they are supporting . When a big group of sex workers broke out of AFESIP’s barbed wire compound a couple of years ago and held a protest outside the US Embassy against AFESIP, she said they were kidnapped by pimps and forced to protest. It was covered in the PP Post and Cam Daily every day and even supporters of heavy handed anti-trafficking ran out of patience with the blatant lies Mam was telling. At the time it seemed so absurd that she was saying things that absolutely no-one in Phnom Penh believed but now it is clear who the audience for those lies was – innocent Americans who can be parted from their money.

  • V.V.

    Hi Andrew:
    I’ve learned of the horrific human rights abuses happening to imprisoned Cambodian sex workers under U.S.-imposed anti-prostitution legislation, but please provide more information about human rights abuses at Somaly Mam’s centres.

  • Bebe Loff

    I am the director of the Michael Kirby Centre for Public Health and Human Rights at Monash University in Australia. Having worked with sex workers in Cambodia, and currently in the process of developing a legal service for them, I would have to say that Andrew Hunter is quite correct. You would do well to interview him on this matter. I suspect some of those who have aligned themselves with Somaly Mam and AFESIP might seek to put some distance between themselves and Somaly and AFESIP’s “rescue” strategies. In my view what is done is nothing short of an abuse of the rights of those apparently “rescued” and “rehabilitated”.

  • Bill Livermore

    These accusations are completely without merit.

    AFESIP, the organization on the ground in Cambodia running the shelters and the intake, has policies in place that state that no women is to be kept against their free will. Each employee is informed of this policy throughout their employment. Residents are encouraged and empowered to speak to Somaly and I directly regarding staff issues. Each center elects a resident representative every 6 months. This representative has direct access to the executive director of AFESIP, Somaly and myself. If there is any behavior that is not within policy or seems wrong to any resident they are encouraged to speak with their peer leader and ultimately bring it to our attention. To facilitate this each representative has a cell phone with our numbers programmed in.

    These accusations pop up every two years or so; often they are a result of accusations made by the Asian Pacific Sex Workers Union. Every time they arise we investigate closely and have yet to find any evidence of wrong doing by any staff member.

    As we grow and highlight the issues on the ground in Cambodia (and elsewhere in the world) we will likely become larger targets.

    Bill Livermore
    Executive Director
    The Somaly Mam Foundation

  • Andrew,

    We just published on our website some critical statement that you have made with regards to Somaly Mam and her foundation. That said I am curious to see whether the magazine can interview you? I take the allegations you make very seriously and for the sake of clarity and integrity and those individuals who suffer as sex workers I want to take up the cause.

    Are you up for this? Can I posit you a series of questions? If you want to clear the air, so to speak, here is your chance.

    Please advise

    Christopher- Scallywag

  • Celebrities who are offering such public support to Somaly should actually look into her a bit more.
    Her organisation stands publicly accused of committing serious human rights abuses including illegally detaining women at her centres. We have testimony from many sex workers in Cambodia of the abuses that have occurred to them at her centres and have published video interviews with women she has illegally detained.
    In Cambodia she is extremely controversial- not the least because of the extremely racist nature of her analysis of trafficking in Cambodia which blames it on the evils of ethnic Khmers (Somaly claims to be an ethnic Phnong)
    So nice to see so many celebrities raising money for Somaly’s illegal sex worker prisons