Somaly Mam

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Somaly Mam
Somaly Mam, 2013.jpg
Mam in June 2013
Born 1970 or 1971[1]:2
Mondulkiri, Cambodia
Nationality Cambodian
Occupation Former CEO of Somaly Mam Foundation
Known for Anti-sex trafficking
Spouse(s) Pierre Legros (1993-2008)[2][3]

Somaly Mam (born 1970 or 1971) is a Cambodian author and human rights advocate who focuses primarily on sex trafficking. From 1996 to 2014, Mam was involved in campaigns against sex trafficking. She set up the Somaly Mam Foundation, raised money, appeared on major television programs and spoke at many international events.

After allegations of lying had appeared in The Cambodia Daily in 2012 and 2013, Newsweek ran a cover-story in May 2014 claiming that Mam had fabricated stories of abuse about herself and others. After being presented by Goodwin Procter, a Boston-based law firm, with details pertaining to potential inconsistencies and untruths publicly disclosed by Mam related to her life, she resigned from the foundation she had set up, which has since shut down, and she moved back to live in Cambodia.[4][5][6]

Early life and education[edit]

Mam was born to a tribal minority family in Mondulkiri Province, Cambodia. In her memoir, The Road of Lost Innocence, she states that she was born in either 1970 or 1971.[1]:2[1] According to a May 2014 New York Times article, Mam graduated from high school in Cambodia.[3][7]

Mam has made claims that she was abused by her "grandfather" until she was approximately 14 and that she was sold to a brothel and forced into prostitution and that she was also forced to marry a stranger.[3][8][9] She has claimed that she was forced to prostitute herself on the streets and made to have sex with five or six clients per day.[10][1]:42–45[11]

Mam's sex trafficking and abuse claims were disproved in a May 2014 Newsweek article.[9] Mam resigned from the Somaly Mam Foundation shortly thereafter.[3]


Mam left Cambodia for Paris, France, in 1993 where she married a French citizen, Pierre Legros. They divorced in 2008.[2][3]

Charity and achievements[edit]

Mam pretended to be a nurse[12] from Médecins Sans Frontières and, in her spare time, handed out condoms, soap, and information to women in the brothels. In 1996, she founded AFESIP (Agir pour les Femmes en Situation Precaire or "Acting for Women in Distressing Situations"), a Cambodian NGO dedicated to rescuing, housing and rehabilitating women and children in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam who have been sexually exploited.[13] AFESIP conducts outreach work to try helping the women still enslaved. The organization also works with law enforcement to raid the brothels.[14] The company has locations in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.[13]

In June 2007, Mam co-founded the Somaly Mam Foundation, a nonprofit organization formed in the United States that supported anti-trafficking groups and helped women and girls who had been forced into sexual slavery.[15][dead link] The Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF) attracted the support of U.S. business leaders and Hollywood stars. SMF was the global fundraising arm of Somaly Mam's Phnom Penh-based organization Agir Pour Les Femmes en Situation Precaire (Afesip), which was founded in 1996.[16]

Discovery of fabricated stories[edit]

A first public unravelling of Mam's story came in the form of doubt around some comments she made at the United Nations. Speaking on a United Nations panel to member states, international aid organizations and the media in New York on April 3, Mam stated that eight girls had been killed after her organization, Afesip, conducted a high-profile raid on a massage parlor at the Chai Hour II Hotel in Phnom Penh, where 83 women and girls were taken and placed in her refuge center. Somaly Mam has since admitted that this was "inaccurate" and that the Cambodian army had not killed eight girls.

Further shadows fell on Mam's credibility on April 25, 2012 as she had to respond to claims by her ex-husband and one-time Afesip director Pierre Legros, that she had misrepresented an incident involving their daughter in 2004.[17] Mam had long claimed that the teenager was kidnapped and raped by human traffickers in retaliation for her raid on the Chai Hour II Hotel.[14] In her 2007 autobiography, Mam wrote that the people involved in the kidnapping of her daughter were released from jail, though a trial was pending. Legros said their daughter was not kidnapped, but had run away with her boyfriend, and that in his view the abduction story was a means of "marketing for the Somaly Mam Foundation". The U.S. Ambassador at the time, Joseph Mussomeli, wrote in a diplomatic cable in 2004 that Mam claimed that Mam's daughter had been "lured by her peers" to Battambang Province and that she was later found in a night club there in the company of three men who were arrested and charged with trafficking (which is false).[18]

And in October 2013, more scandal arrived as reports of crucial but dishonest testimonies arose in the press. The alleged deception took place in January 1998, when Mam was propelled from relative obscurity into the international media spotlight largely owing to the on-camera testimony of the young Meas Ratha and other alleged victims of Cambodia's child sex industry. Mam's work as president of her own Phnom Penh-based NGO, Agir Pour Les Femmes en Situation Precaire (Afesip), was being featured on French television as part of the popular weekly show Envoyé Spécial. The documentary opens with the camera lens focused on Ratha, then a teenager of about 14 years from Takeo province. Mam is seen seated at the young girl's side as she tells a dismal story of sexual slavery in an unspecified brothel somewhere in Phnom Penh. Sixteen years later, Ratha (now 32 years old and married) stated that her testimony for the France 2 channel was fabricated and scripted for her by Mam as a means of drumming up support for the organization. Ratha said, "The video that you see, everything that I put in is not my story."[19]

On May 28, 2014, after a Newsweek exposé, Mam resigned from the Somaly Mam Foundation.[3] The New York Times credited The Cambodia Daily with first pointing out that Mam's stories of her childhood were false in 2012 and 2013.[3][18][20]


In September 2014, Mam protested her innocence in an interview in Marie Claire,[21] and returned to New York, hoping to restore her reputation.[22]

Honors and awards[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d Mam, Somaly (September 9, 2008). The Road of Lost Innocence. United States: Random House Publishing. pp. 2–45. ISBN 978-0-385-52621-0. 
  2. ^ a b "Former Afesip Director Denies Claim of Killings". The Cambodia Daily. 2012-04-23. Retrieved 2014-06-03. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Mullany, Gerry (29 May 2014). "Activist Resigns Amid Charges of Fabrication". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 July 2014. 
  4. ^ Joshua Wilwohl (18 October 2014). "Somaly Mam Foundation Ceases Operations". The Cambodia Daily. Retrieved October 2014. 
  5. ^ Taylor, Adam (29 May 2014). "Why would Somaly Mam quit her own sex-trafficking foundation?". The Washington Post blog. Retrieved 30 May 2014. 
  6. ^ Mullany, Gerry (29 May 2014). "Crusader Against Sex Trafficking Quits Amid Charges Stories Were Fabricated". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 May 2014. She said the foundation retained a law firm in March to investigate the allegations, which were raised by The Cambodia Daily in articles in 2012 and 2013. 
  7. ^ Marks, Simon (21 May 2014). "Somaly Mam: The Holy Saint (and Sinner) of Sex Trafficking". Newsweek. Retrieved 29 May 2014. Sam Nareth, a childhood friend of Mam’s, says Mam first attended school in the village in 1981 and remained there until she got her high school diploma. “She finished secondary school in 1987, and Somaly and I went to sit the teachers exam in Kompong Cham together.” Thou Soy, who was the director of Khchao High School in Thloc Chhroy, distinctly remembers Mam attending classes between 1981 and 1987, as does the current commune chief, Thorng Ruon, and his two predecessors. 
  8. ^ "Stolen Innocence". November 19, 2005. 
  9. ^ a b Marks, Simon (21 May 2014). "Somaly Mam: The Holy Saint (and Sinner) of Sex Trafficking". Newsweek. Retrieved 7 July 2014. 
  10. ^ Hosking, Patrick; Wighton, David (December 4, 2005). "A Life in the Day: Somaly Mam". London: The Sunday Times (U.K.). Retrieved October 7, 2010. 
  11. ^ a b "Change-Maker in Women's History: Somaly Mam". March 27, 2009. Retrieved October 7, 2010. 
  12. ^ 03.06.11. "Women in the World: Somaly Mam, Cambodia". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 2014-06-03. 
  13. ^ a b "Rescuing Child Sex Workers". PBS. February 12, 2010. Retrieved October 7, 2010. 
  14. ^ a b c "Somaly Mam". Time Magazine. April 30, 2009. Retrieved October 7, 2010. 
  15. ^ "Somaly Mam". Retrieved October 7, 2010. 
  16. ^ Simon Marks in Cambodia Daily October 13, 2013
  17. ^ "Award-winning Cambodian activist quits after probes into her past | Reuters". 2014-05-29. Retrieved 2014-06-03. 
  18. ^ a b "More Questions Over Somaly Mam’s Kidnapping Claim". The Cambodia Daily. 2012-04-25. Retrieved 2014-06-03. 
  19. ^ Simon Marks and Phorn Bopha in Cambodia Daily October 12, 2013
  20. ^ "Somaly Mam's Resignation". 
  21. ^ "Somaly's Story: 'I Didn't Lie.'". 
  22. ^ Lloyd Grove (19 September 2014). "Who’s Telling The Truth About Somaly Mam? A Smashed Icon, A Media Brawl—and a Comeback". The Daily Beast. Retrieved October 2014. 
  23. ^ "Honorary Degrees". Regis University. Retrieved October 7, 2010. 
  24. ^ Simon Marks in Cambodia Daily April 26, 2012
  25. ^ Cambodian activist who rescues sex slaves wins World's Children's Prize, International Herald Tribune, (AP), April 16, 2008
  26. ^ "Somaly Mam from Cambodia is the first winner of the Roland Berger Award". Roland Berger Stiftung. Retrieved 16 September 2011. 
  27. ^ Saner, Emine (March 8, 2011). "Somaly Mam". London: The Guardian. 
  28. ^ "Women in the World: Somaly Mam, Cambodia". The Daily Beast. 
  29. ^ Pearl, Mariane. "Global Diary Cambodia: The Sex Slave Tragedy". Glamour. Retrieved 19 September 2011. 

External links[edit]