This got me into pondering: how likely it is for a young girl in Cambodia sold into sexual slavery to not only break free from her ordeal but also one day rise up to become a superstar hero like Somaly Mam?
Well, first, in her past life– assuming there is such a thing– she’d have to have been an American, Western European, or a citizen of another country that holds things like justice and human rights in the highest regard. She couldn’t have been Khmer– at least not one brought up in Cambodia– because Khmer people tend not to be too concerned about these things. These values are largely Western and Judeo-Christian in origin, although they’ve been successfully incorporated into many successful Asian societies like Singapore, Japan and South Korea.
Second, she’d have to somehow carry these ideals over into the present life– the one in which she is unfortunate enough not only to have been born into a poor, third-world country but also to suffer the fate of a sex slave. Being deprived of childhood education– it’s not like being educated in Cambodia would have mattered, anyway– she’d have to rely on her supernatural awareness and conviction of justice somehow retained from her previous life to drive her to not only escape her extraordinary ordeal but also one day devote her life to help others in similar circumstances.
Of course, these scenarios are possible only through a Hollywood movie. And it’s not surprising that Somaly Mam’s stardom was largely created and propped up by the Western media. The beautiful people from Hollywood were eager to project their own romantic ideals onto a real Khmer person, and Ms. Mam was smart enough to exploit the opportunity (but not smart enough to foresee that she would be exposed someday).
I’ve lived in Cambodia for much of the last six years and have come to know this country well…all too well, I’m afraid. Somaly Mam, the hero savior of Cambodian sex slaves, is pure fantasy. Given the culture, mindset, and conditions that characterize this country, there is simply no way that a real Somaly Mam can exist in this country. Not yet, anyway.
Truth be told, what Somaly Mam did was not nearly as bad as some of things people do here on a casual basis. Whether or not she had lied about her past, her work has contributed positively to the awareness of sexual exploitation in Cambodia, which is a reality, not a fabrication.
Additionally, we can’t blame the beautiful people from Hollywood for getting fooled by Somaly Mam; after all, their hearts were in the right place. Even as someone who was born in Cambodia, I too have been fooled by Khmer people. Big time.