Somaly Mam was born in the Mondulkiri province of Cambodia. Her family struggled through poverty and limited opportunities. She was later trained to be a midwife after the genocidal regime. However, Somaly was sold many times by her grandfather as a slave and coerced into prostitution.
She was forced to work in a brothel with many other young girls that were treated horrifically through torture, manipulation, and scare tactics. One night she watched a close friend murdered by a pimp. At this moment, Somaly realized that she trapped in a dangerous and desperate world. She made it her mission to escape and later find a way to stop this vicious cycle. Her past is a major contributing factor regarding her passion and effort to help young children and women involved with human trafficking.
Because of poverty and the adversity young women face in Cambodia, Somaly Mam worked diligently to overcome the traumatic background in her life. She has a very diverse experiences that helped build her work ethic and job skills. At the age of 21, Somaly became a midwife at Choup district Hospital in Cambodia. A few years later, Somaly traveled to France and began to learn its language. She became the Director of Personnel at a European Restaurant from 1992 to 1993. However, her most rewarding experiences related to social work, such as her earlier days at the Maisons de Retraite in France. Somaly also met her husband, Mr. Pierre Legros, who is also dedicated to social causes, such as victims of human trafficking.
Somaly later returned to Cambodia to bring back some of her experience and ideas to her homeland. She joined the mission with Swedish NGO Medecin Sans Frontiere at Kratie province. With her husband, she began establishing an NGO in French called Agir Pour les Femmes en Situation Precaire (AFESIP), translated in English Acting for Women in Distressing Circumstances. She became co-founder of AFESIP and President of AFESIP Cambodia in Phnom Penh. This organization's main cause is the rescue, rehabilitation, and reintegration specifically with prostitutes as well as with trafficked persons in need. The Cambodia government's ministry of Interior's Officials authorized AFESIP one year after opening in 1997. This leading organization has 155 social workers in Cambodia and the neighboring countries of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Somaly says the organization has saved more than 5,000 girls since its founding in 1996.