I often wear a bright green woven bracelet with purple beads on my left wrist. People who notice it usually ask if I made it, to which I answer, “No, a girl in Cambodia did.” I then explain that no, my bracelet was not made in a sweat shop. I don't know the identity of the girl who made my bracelet, but I do know that, whoever she is, she is a survivor of sexual slavery.
The girl who made my bracelet was, like millions of young women and children in Southeast Asia, kidnapped or sold into prostitution at a young age, perhaps as young as five. Unlike most of the victims of this modern slavery, though, the girl who made my bracelet was rescued from captivity and brought somewhere safe to recover and heal, thanks to the Somaly Mam Foundation.
This nonprofit organization was founded by Cambodian sexual slavery survivor Somaly Mam and American Air Force Academy graduates Jared Greenberg and Nicholas Lumpp in 2007. Since its inception, the foundation has raised awareness of this horrific issue all over the globe and rescued thousands of Cambodian girls and young women from sexual slavery, setting them on a path toward recovery and reintegration.
Somaly Mam is one of the few voices speaking out against this unspeakable practice. Her own story is heartbreakingly tragic, but she has risen above her tragedy and dedicated her life to saving victims and empowering survivors. Through donations and proceeds from the sale of items that the rescued girls make (like my bracelet), the foundation is providing them shelter, food and education, opportunities and hope for the future they would not have had otherwise. But the struggle is far from over.
According to the United Nations, over 2 million children around the world are either kidnapped or sold to the sex trafficking industry every year. This industry generates $12 billion a year globally and is protected by corrupt government and law enforcement officials.
It is unacceptable that five-year-old girls are being sold by their families and raped and beaten by their captors every day. It is unacceptable that the governments of Southeast Asia are allowing this to happen. It is unacceptable for anyone who knows of these atrocities to turn a blind eye, to ignore the tragedy, to do nothing.
In Cambodia, one girl in 20 will be sold into sexual slavery by the age of twelve. She will be captured and beaten and tortured and raped and demeaned and likely killed, her innocence, her freedom and her life all taken away; and she is powerless to stop it.
But we are not powerless. We can make a difference in the lives of these girls and young women whom life has treated so harshly. A donation of only $10 provides psychological counseling for one victim of sex trafficking, and $30 will provide shelter and security for one girl for a month. Visit www.somaly.org to learn more about the Somaly Mam Foundation and contribute to this important cause.
I often think about the girl who made my bracelet. I wonder: what is her story? Would I cry if I heard it? (Probably.) What is her life like now? Will she ever be able to recover from the terrible things that have happened to her? Will she be safe and happy and loved? And I wonder if I will ever get to meet her; what would I say if I did? Somehow, “Thanks for the bracelet” doesn't seem like enough.