Fraud with Somaly Mam – stealing money from donors with fake sex trafficking stories
Picture above is Somaly Mam
by Mellisa Gira Grant May 29, 2014
The New York Times
WITH a sensational story of surviving child sex slavery in Cambodia, Somaly Mam became a worldwide icon, the best-selling author of a memoir and the head of a foundation raising millions in the name of saving girls and women from the sex trade, victims she recounted rescuing in dramatic brothel raids. Last year, introducing the State Department’s annual “Trafficking in Persons” report, Secretary of State John Kerry called Ms. Mam “a hero every single day.”
But all this wasn’t true. A Newsweek cover story last week found inconsistencies and flat-out fraud in Ms. Mam’s story of being abducted and forced to work in a brothel as a child — instead, former neighbors said she came to their village with her parents and graduated from high school, later sitting for a teacher’s exam — and in the stories of women she said she had rescued by the thousands. Ms. Mam even said traffickers had kidnapped her teenage daughter — but the girl’s father said she ran away with her boyfriend.
On Wednesday, Somaly Mam resigned from her own foundation.
The consequences of her fables will prove harder to correct. Ms. Mam and her foundation banked on Western feel-good demands for intervention, culminating in abusive crackdowns on the people she claimed to save.
The International Labor Organization estimates that more than three times as many people are trafficked into work like domestic, garment and agricultural labor than those trafficked for sex. I’ve interviewed human-rights advocates in Phnom Penh since 2007, and they raised concerns about Ms. Mam’s distortion of this reality. Her portrayal of all sex workers as victims in need of saving encouraged raids and rescue operations that only hurt the sex workers themselves.
In 2008, Cambodia enacted new prohibitions on commercial sex, after the country was placed on a watch list by the State Department. In brutal raids on brothels and in parks, as reported by the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers in a 2008 documentary, women were chased down, detained and assaulted. The State Department commended Cambodia for its law and removed the country from the watch list.
Human Rights Watch later conducted interviews with 94 sex workers in Cambodia for a 2010 report. “Two days after my arrival, I was caught when I tried to escape,” one woman said. “Five guards beat me up. When I used my arms to shield my face and head from their blows, they beat my arms. The guard threatened to slit our throats if we tried to escape a second time, and said our bodies would be cremated there.”
She was describing a “rescue” and detention at the Prey Speu Social Affairs center near Phnom Penh. Human Rights Watch urged the Cambodian government “to suspend provisions in the 2008 Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation that facilitate police harassment and abuses.”
These are the women whose stories are not told in an anti-trafficking fund-raising pitch. Some of the “victims” whom Ms. Mam said she saved then attempted to escape from her shelters, only to have her claim to the press that they had been “kidnapped.” She later apologized for a 2012 speech before the United Nations General Assembly in which she asserted that the Cambodian Army had killed eight girls after a raid on her shelters.