Somaly Mam, anti-sex trafficking activist, has quit her job after a report questioned the credibility of her personal slavery story. It insisted key claims had in fact been fabricated, proven by statements by childhood acquaintances, teachers and local officials in the village where she grew up. It also accused her of training girls to exaggerate or fabricate their own stories of slavery, in order to gain media coverage for her movement.
Her narrative was also contradicted by her own errors, as she confused details like how long she was held captive. Her book The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine, told her story of being sold into sexual slavery as a teenager by a man she called grandfather, and how she eventually managed to escape, which is when she first began an organisation to help vulnerable women.
After publishing her book, Mam formed the Somaly Mam Foundation. She won many international donors who have injected money into the organisation to help raise millions of pounds for the charity, including celebrities like Angelina Jolie.
Mam has also given speeches at numerous authoritative and highly esteemed institutes like the White House and the United Nations. In 2009, she was chosen as one of Time’s most influential people, and in 2011, the Guardian selected her as one of its top 100 women.
This is why it has come as such a shock that she may not have been telling the truth, after so many people backed her story and as a result her campaign. Although regardless of the accusations the money raised will always be a great achievement, it has tainted the authenticity of the foundation itself.
Although organisation members were happy to accept her resignation, Gina Reiss-Wilchins, executive director, stated: “While we are extremely saddened by this news, we remain grateful to Somaly’s work over the past two decades, and for helping to build a foundation that has served thousands of women and girls, and has raised critical awareness of the nearly 21 million individuals who are currently enslaved today.”
The foundation said in a statement that lawyers will now be conducting a two-month investigation into the matter, as well as many of the stories told by girls in conjunction with the organisation. They also revealed that already, one of the stories by Long Pross, an alleged child sex slave, will no longer be associated with the foundation.
Pross told the public how she was sold into slavery and saved by Mam after having her eye gouged out. However, recent investigations have stated that she was really volunteering for the association, and had in fact undergone eye surgery which had resulted in a tumor.
Despite this, slavery and sexual abuse is a prominent issue, and those who have actually suffered are urged to come forward and tell their stories. The Somaly Mam Foundation is still working towards a great cause, and will continue to do so.