Somaly Mam, Human Trafficking Victim Turned Activist: 'I Just Want To Help' Others Escape (VIDEO)

01/18/2013 04:25 pm ET

Growing up in war-torn Cambodia and separated from her parents, a young Somaly Mam was easy prey for a human trafficker, who eventually brought her to a brothel hundreds of miles from her hometown. She spoke to HuffPost Live host Josh Zepps on Friday, describing how she managed to grow from violated child into human rights activist.

After enduring hellacious conditions in the brothel, she eventually fled, but had nowhere to go and no one to turn to. Alone and abused, Mam said she "just stopped and sat down, 'where am I going?' I wanted to go back to the brothel because I have no house, no home."

However, she managed to survive and build a life for herself, fueled by her belief that she needed "to help other people to have this opportunity" to escape from sex slavery.

"I just want to help them, I want to be the family for the kids who don't have a family," Mam said, and since 1996 her organizations AFESIP and the Somaly Mam Foundation have cared for thousands of young women throughout Southeast Asia, helping them leave brothels and reenter society. Mam described how that healing can begin by being a caring listener for the victims.

"The first thing, sometimes you don't need to talk to them," Mam told HuffPost Live. "You look at them and hold their hand and you hug them, and our heart can feel it."

The problem, however, is not only overseas. In the US, January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Joining Somaly Mam to talk about sex trafficking were Alison Kiehl Friedman, Deputy Director, US Dept. Of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Chris Baughman, Human Trafficking Detective in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Kimberly Benson, a young woman who described being sold into prostitution in her own home town in Tennessee.

CONVERSATIONS