By Patricia Wersinger
I was delighted to be invited to the Somaly Mam Gala as a guest of The Body Shop at L’Espace on West 42nd Street. The Somaly Mam Foundation was co-founded by sex trafficking survivor Somaly Mam and is dedicated to ending slavery around the world. The Gala at L’Espace honored The Body Shop for its’ support and partnership with the Somaly Mam Foundation to stop child sex trafficking.
The story of Somaly Mam’s odyssey of exploitation, survival, and final triumph, is at the core of the Foundation’s dedication to help millions of exploited children obtain sustainable and normal lives. Sold into sexual slavery at a young age, Somaly worked in a brothel in the Mondulkiri province of Cambodia where she was regularly victimized. One night after witnessing her best friend’s murder, Somaly Mam decided to risk all and flee. After securing her safety, Somaly Mam decided that she must help others escape slavery too and build better lives for themselves.
In 1996, Somaly created an organization to provide emotional and economic support to women and in 2007 established the Somaly Mam Foundation. It has since garnered worldwide respect for its’ efforts against human trafficking and is a leader in the movement today.
The Body Shop joined the crusade with its’ Stop Sex Trafficking of Children & Young People Campaign in August 2009. The company handed over seven million customer signatures to the United Nations Human Rights Council calling for greater action to tackle child sex trafficking.
Phil Kowalczyk, President, The Body Shop Americas, accepted the honor from the Somaly Mam Foundation during the evening. Shelley Simmons, Director, Brand Communications & Values attended as well. Other VIP’s at the event included Russell Simmons, Amb. Melanne Verveer, Petra Nemcova, Susan Sarandon, AnnaLynne McCord, Christina Sass from Clinton Global Initiative, Amb. Carol Rodley, Amb. to Cambodia, Her Excellency Hun Kimleng, the spouse of Police Commissioner General of Cambodian National Police, and Padma Lakshimi.
Two former sex slaves attended the event to provide testimony and thank the Foundation for its’ remarkable record for enabling girls to escape slavery and rebuild their lives.