Human rights

Somaly Mam, the James Frey of Anti-Sex Trafficking Activism, Resigns From Her Foundation


Somaly Mam Foundation/Facebook

Activist Somaly Mam earned international acclaim and a spot on Oprah's book list by brandishing tales of horrific sexual slavery and abuse—many of which she seems to have made up. Now the Somaly Mam Foundation has announced that it has accepted its founder's resignation. 

In March, the Foundation hired an independent law firm to look into Mam's personal history. "As a result of Goodwin Procter's efforts, we have accepted Somaly's resignation effective immediately," it said yesterday. 

Last week, Newsweek profiled Mam, who is also the co-founder of Cambodia-based anti-sex trafficking organization Agir Pour Les Femmes en Situation Précaire (AFESIP):

Mam is one of the world's most compelling activists, brave and beautiful, and her list of supporters is long and formidable. Former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton and actresses Meg Ryan, Susan Sarandon and Shay Mitchell, as well as New York Times Pulitzer-winning columnist Nicholas Kristof, have all toured AFESIP centers in Cambodia. Queen Sofia of Spain has for years promoted Mam's cause and even visited her in the hospital last year when she fell ill. 

[…] Mam has raised millions with a hectic schedule of meetings all over the globe with the good, the great and the super-rich—from the U.N.'s Ban Ki-moon to the pope. One day she will be speaking at the White House, and the next day she'll be enthralling schoolchildren in a remote corner of Cambodia.

So, she's kind of a big deal. And she claims to have rescued thousands of girls and women from sexual slavery, inspired by her own experience being sold first to a violent husband and then to a brothel by her grandfather when she was a teenager. The 10 years of abuse Mam suffered in that brothel are detailed in her internationally bestselling autobiography, The Road of Lost Innocence.

But Newsweek's Simon Marks began digging around after noting some inconsistencies in Mam's story and those being told by women AFESIP "rescued." He found that Long Pross—a girl whose terrible story of sexual slavery and torture has been told in The New York Times and on Oprah—was making her story up.

Another of Mam's biggest "stars" was Meas Ratha, who as a teenager gave a chilling performance on French television in 1998, describing how she had been sold to a brothel and held against her will as a sex slave.

Late last year, Ratha finally confessed that her story was fabricated and carefully rehearsed for the cameras under Mam's instruction, and only after she was chosen from a group of girls who had been put through an audition. Now in her early 30s and living a modest life on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Ratha says she reluctantly allowed herself to be depicted as a child prostitute: "Somaly said that…if I want to help another woman I have to do [the interview] very well."

Mam's own story has holes as well: Marks' interviews with Mam's childhood acquaintances, teachers, and neighbors turned up no one who had met or even saw Mam's grandfather or the man she was allegedly forced to marry. They say she lived with her parents and was a happy, well-liked kid.

And "Mam's confusion isn't limited to her book, or the backstory for some of  'her girls,'" Marks points out. In 2012, she admitted to making false claims in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly about an alleged Cambodian army attack on one of her shelters that killed eight girls. 

Countless acquaintances, colleagues, and former employees offer up horror stories about Mam, who comes across as utterly sociopathic in the article. Many of them offer some variation on the same sentiment: People want to believe Mam is good and honest because of the work she's doing, so they do. Most people simply won't question the motives of alleged do-gooders—why would someone lie about child rape?

But people lie about tragedy for the same reasons they lie about anything: money, attention, some perceived greater good, etc. Maybe Mam thought the ends justified the means; maybe she just wanted to party with Gwyneth Paltrow.

Perhaps the story is indicative of nothing more than how motivated, mentally ill manipulators can really thrive if they find the right angle. But some say it highlights the downside of nonprofits using tragedy porn to raise funds. "If your goal is fundraising, you actually have an incentive to pull out the most gory story," one activist told Marks, "and so we get completely false realities of the world."

These false realities are then used not just to tug at the heart and purse strings of potential donors but to launch initiatives and make lawmakers weepy-eyed at Congressional hearings. They inspire policy, and that's scary. Boogeymen make frighteningly good lobbyists. 

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  1. “As a result of Goodwin Procter

    …From The Crucible?

  2. “Somaly said that?if I want to help another woman I have to do [the interview] very well.”

    Well, that settles it. These women are just as much victims of sex slavery as actual sex slaves, whomever they might be.

    1. I blame Mother Teresa

  3. So, how many hucksters has Oprah fallen for now?

    1. That Million Little Pieces guy was classic. When he was exposed as a fraud, first Oprah defended his book as having an elemental truth or some such bullshit. Then, finger in the wind, she realized that wouldn’t fly, so determined it was better to haul him back on her show to excoriate him.

      In other words, Oprah is a big phony

    2. Is there a huckster Oprah hasn’t fawned over?

      Uri Geller, maybe.

      1. +1 Bent Spoon

      2. Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin fell for him like a ton of bricks.

        1. Mike who ? Merv who ?


          1. I was 12 or 13 when Uri was on those shows. The best time was a few years later when I came home dosed to the gills, perfectly maintaining my cool, plopped down on the couch to watch Mike Douglas interviewing Carol Burnett who was telling all the parents out there that their child just came home ON DRUGS!

            It seems Ms Burnett’s daughter had not mastered the fine art of “maintaining her cool”.

  4. So she’s the Rigoberta Menchu of sex trafficking. I wonder if they’ll even change the name of the foundation.

    1. Nah, she wasn’t responsible for enough murder to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, like Menchu was.

      1. Yep. Mam was a fraud, but to reach Menchu levels of fraud, we would have to find out that she was the kingpin behind a human trafficking ring.

  5. the Somaly Mam Foundation has announced that it has accepted its founder’s resignation.

    At which point they changed their name to merely “Foundation”. Mathematician Hari Seldon was named to lead the organization.

  6. “tragedy porn”

    You need to copyright that phrase immediately.

  7. Rigoberta Menchu. Margaret Mead. Michael Mann. Paul Erlich. Mother Theresa. Now Somaly Mam…..thats just off of the top of my head in the length of time it took to type. I am sure I could fill pages with a little effort.

    Whenever the left has a darling whose story fits the narrative too well it turns out they are a fraud. Shocker.

    1. You forgot recent Google Doodle awardee Rachel “I single-handedy murdered millions in the tropics through malaria to make West Coast Ecotopians feel good” Carson.

      1. My God you are right. What is wrong with me? Rachel Fucking Carson. What an evil, lying bitch.

        1. And she actually started out with a good point: governments were actually spraying way more DDT than necessary.

          I mean, if there’s one thing government does it’s overdo just about everything. Of course, she wound up being just as bad.

    2. I typed my comment before there were any other comments and after it posted I see most of the names I named are in the other comments. The left is rife with liars and frauds.

      It is to be expected from the ‘end justifies the means’ crowd.

      1. Can’t make an ommelette without breaking a few eggs, right?

        (enter Dwight Schrutte) “Wrong. You can make an ommelette by purchasing store-bought cartons of eggbeaters. Alternatively, you can eat the eggs whole including shells. The gastic acids will dissolve the eggs rather than breaking them.”

    3. What did Margaret Mead lie about? That’s a story I haven’t heard yet.

      1. Her name ad an ‘e’ at the end of it.

  8. Maya Angelou could have told us some true tales of sex trafficking.

  9. Do you not understand artistic license? Mam has obviously been trying to create a dialogue!

  10. Next time on Oprah!


    Tomorrow at Nine!

  11. Rule #1:

    Don’t trust any foundation with a person’s name in it.

    1. From the same rule book that says any law named after a person will suck. If the person is a dead child, that’s doubleplus bad.

  12. Mam lied, people cried.

  13. I like her. She’s got an imaginative dirty mind.

  14. Another Dan Rather award winner

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