On any given day, you can find Somy Ali in a coffee shop, or another public place, meeting with a victim of sexual abuse, domestic violence or human trafficking. She’s just meeting this person for the first time, but she’s mapping out an individualized plan for them. These plans can include therapy, doctor’s visits, finding safe housing, educational plans, driving lessons and more. She usually spends two months with each victim. Ali doesn’t have days off, and her phone can ring at any moment during the day.
In 2006, Ali, the beautiful model and former Bollywood actress, created No More Tears, a U.S. nonprofit organization focused on rescuing and empowering victims of physical and sexual abuse and human trafficking, and registered it with the IRS. In 2007, her organization was approved as a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit and she started operating out of Plantation, a city in South Florida’s Broward County. Ali was undoubtedly influenced by her upbringing: in her native Pakistan, where she and her younger brother were both sexually abused and their mother was a victim of domestic violence. When Ali was 12 years old, the family moved to Miami, where Ali was bullied and raped. At 15, she dropped out of high school, moved to India and became an actress in Bollywood films. When she was 24, after she broke off her engagement to Salman Khan, she returned to the United States to pursue her education. She earned a degree in psychology at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, pursued a masters in communications and attended film school.
Somy Ali is the only employee in the organization, and 100 percent of the foundation’s money goes to pay for the rescue plans and all the help that the victims may need.
When Ali started No More Tears (NMT), she wanted all donations and grants to go straight to aid victims, so she dipped into her savings and bought three properties in South Florida. To this day, she lives off the rental income from those properties and and freelance modeling work and takes home no salary from NMT. Every dollar that comes into NMT comes from private and corporate donations. She is the only employee in the organization, and 100 percent of the foundation’s money goes to pay for the rescue plans and all the help that the victims may need.
Ali considers herself a “second responder” and works alongside the FBI, police departments and victim advocates throughout Miami-Dade, Broward and West Palm Beach counties. She receives about 15 calls a day, referrals and victims alike. Her first step is to inquire about the victim’s desires. She meets them in a public place to create an individualized program. If they want to return home to their native country, she buys them a ticket. If they are Americans or want to stay in the country, she works with them for two months using an extensive network that includes, but is not limited to, immigration and divorce attorneys, doctors, dentists and therapists.
There’s a cloud of secrecy that surrounds the demographic that Ali serves, and though the number of cases reported seems to increase yearly, there are still many unreported incidents. “Culturally, there’s a stigma attached to domestic violence, some people even look away and deem it to be the norm. That has to stop. Shoving the sexual abuse of children under the rug, that has to stop. People have such issues talking about sexual abuse and it has to be addressed,” she says. “I really struggle with victim blaming. The idea that, ‘oh, she could have left’. Some victims don’t even speak English and may not even know where they are geographically. Until we stop the stigma attached to these victims, things won’t get better.”
The Florida Department of Children and Families counted about 1,900 reported incidents of human trafficking throughout the state in 2016, a number that increased by more than 50 percent from 2015. According to the law, human trafficking is transporting a person for the purpose of exploiting them for labor, domestic servitude or sex. Just like with domestic violence and sexual abuse, victims are predominantly female.
Ali and her organization have been the recipients of many impressive accolades, including The Broward County Women’s Hall of Fame Rising Star Award (2014), L’Oréal Paris’ Woman of Worth and The Annual Outstanding Program Award from the Broward Domestic Violence City Council (2013), the Making a Difference Award (2011), Friends of the Asian American Advisory Board’s Humanitarian Award and the Women of Peace Award (2010).
But when we asked Ali what she considers her greatest accomplishment, she doesn’t hesitate: “The best reason for me to get out of bed every day is this organization. It’s amazing that out of 4,000 victims only two went back to their abusers. Those are some pretty awesome stats, I’m really proud of that.”
Due to the nature of her work, Ali now works from an undisclosed location and is hesitant to let volunteers work closely with victims, but she does take interns and volunteers to help in other capacities. There are also other ways for people to become involved with NMT. Among them, donations: victims need toiletries, things as basic as soap and toothpaste, and toys for children. The program relies on private donors, grants and social media to raise funds.
Ali recognizes that her childhood could have led her down a very different path. “You can take two routes. You can feel sorry for yourself and have a self-destructive attitude or you can do something that’s therapeutic and you can talk to people.” Fortunately for herself and nearly 5,000 victims (and counting), Ali’s chosen route is rescuing, healing and empowering a vulnerable population. ■
For more information about No More Tears, or to make a donation, please visit: No More Tears.