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 anti-trafficking advocate who focuses primarily on sex trafficking.[4] 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 the Somaly Mam Foundation undertook its own investigation by Goodwin Procter, a Boston-based law firm, she resigned from her position and later the foundation shut down in October.[5][6][7] She moved back to live in Cambodia.

Early life[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]

Mam was investigated by a journalist working in Cambodia, and his allegations that key parts of her early life were false was carried by Newsweek in May 2014.[8] Mam resigned from the Somaly Mam Foundation shortly thereafter.[3] An investigation by Marie Claire magazine came to a different conclusion, finding witnesses that supported Mam's story and contradicted Newsweek's allegations.[4]

In her book Mam said she attended school in Cambodia, but did not graduate. According to the Newsweek article, Mam did graduate and found two students and a teacher to support their claims,[9] but Marie Claire quotes the school director remembering she attended only three years of school.

Mam said 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][9][10] 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.[1]:42–45[11][12]

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 served as an untrained healthcare worker[13][14] with 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.[15] AFESIP conducts outreach work to try helping the women still enslaved. The organization also works with law enforcement to raid the brothels.[16] The company has locations in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.[15]

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. 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 AFESIP.[17]

Scrutiny of Mam's stories[edit]

Scrutiny of Mam's story began with 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.

On 25 April 2012, the Cambodia Daily newspaper reported Mam's ex-husband and one-time AFESIP director Pierre Legros, saying that Mam had misrepresented an incident involving their daughter in 2004.[18] 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.[16] 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. Cambodian officials told the newspaper they had no record of such events.[19]

In October 2013, the Cambodia Daily alleged a further deception took place in January 1998, when Mam was propelled 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 AFESIP was being featured on French television as part of the popular weekly show Envoyé Spécial. Ratha, then a teenager of about 14 years from Takeo province, told a story of sexual slavery in an unspecified brothel somewhere in Phnom Penh. Sixteen years later, Ratha (now 32 years old and married) told the newspaper 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."[20]

On 1 June 2015 the Phnom Penh Post, in an article based on recently-released State Department cables, revealed that the United States government "...knew about the now-infamous deceptions and malpractice within organisations run by Somaly Mam for years prior to the media exposés". The article cites a cable titled Somaly Mam Under Microscope sent to the State Department from the US embassy in Phnom Penh on May 8, 2012. Speaking of Mam's claim that her daughter was abducted in 2006 in revenge for an Afesip raid on a Phnom Penh brothel in 2004, the cable says: “Ms Mam has made this claim on numerous occasions despite having reported to post [the embassy] at the time of the incident that the girl was not kidnapped but rather lured by her peers from Phnom Penh to Battambang”. The embassy cable quoted sources in the anti-trafficking community in Phnom Penh as saying that Mam was “rotten to the core,” but as having made a “strategic decision to remain silent on concerns about Afesip’s accounting systems and general lack of financial controls to avoid putting … other anti-[trafficking] NGOs ‘at risk’”.[21]


On May 28, 2014, after the Newsweek exposé, and receiving the report from lawyers, Mam resigned from the Somaly Mam Foundation. The foundation said that "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".[22]

Marie Claire investigation[edit]

In September 2014, Mam protested her innocence in an interview in Marie Claire,[23] and returned to New York, hoping to restore her reputation. The magazine interviewed Mam and also spoke to witnesses in villages. As they seemed to support Mam's backstory, it accused Newsweek of careless, unfair reporting.[4][24]

Honors and awards[edit]

(Newest first)

No date given:[clarification needed]



  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 Mullany, Gerry (29 May 2014). "Activist Resigns Amid Charges of Fabrication". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 July 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c Pesta, Abigail (September 16, 2014). New York Retrieved February 19, 2015.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ Joshua Wilwohl (18 October 2014). "Somaly Mam Foundation Ceases Operations". The Cambodia Daily. Retrieved October 2014. 
  6. ^ Taylor, Adam (29 May 2014). "Why would Somaly Mam quit her own sex-trafficking foundation?". The Washington Post blog. Retrieved 30 May 2014. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ Marks, Simon (21 May 2014). "Somaly Mam: The Holy Saint (and Sinner) of Sex Trafficking". Newsweek. Retrieved 29 May 2014. 
  9. ^ a b Marks, Simon (21 May 2014). "Somaly Mam: The Holy Saint (and Sinner) of Sex Trafficking". Newsweek. Retrieved 7 July 2014. 
  10. ^ "Stolen Innocence". November 19, 2005. 
  11. ^ Hosking, Patrick; Wighton, David (December 4, 2005). "A Life in the Day: Somaly Mam". London: The Sunday Times (U.K.). Retrieved October 7, 2010. 
  12. ^ a b "Change-Maker in Women's History: Somaly Mam". March 27, 2009. Retrieved October 7, 2010. 
  13. ^ 03.06.11. "Women in the World: Somaly Mam, Cambodia". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 2014-06-03. 
  14. ^ "Somaly Mam and the Dark Side of Charity". 2014-07-07. Retrieved 2015-02-19. 
  15. ^ a b "Rescuing Child Sex Workers". PBS. February 12, 2010. Retrieved October 7, 2010. 
  16. ^ a b c "Somaly Mam". Time Magazine. April 30, 2009. Retrieved October 7, 2010. 
  17. ^ Simon Marks in Cambodia Daily October 13, 2013
  18. ^ "Award-winning Cambodian activist quits after probes into her past | Reuters". 2014-05-29. Retrieved 2014-06-03. 
  19. ^ "More Questions Over Somaly Mam’s Kidnapping Claim". The Cambodia Daily. 2012-04-25. Retrieved 2014-06-03. 
  20. ^ Simon Marks and Phorn Bopha in Cambodia Daily October 12, 2013
  21. ^
  22. ^ "Somaly Mam's Resignation". 
  23. ^ "Somaly's Story: 'I Didn't Lie.'". 
  24. ^ 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. 
  25. ^ Saner, Emine (March 8, 2011). "Somaly Mam". London: The Guardian. 
  26. ^ "Women in the World: Somaly Mam, Cambodia". The Daily Beast. 
  27. ^ Simon Marks in Cambodia Daily April 26, 2012
  28. ^ Cambodian activist who rescues sex slaves wins World's Children's Prize, International Herald Tribune, (AP), April 16, 2008
  29. ^ "Somaly Mam from Cambodia is the first winner of the Roland Berger Award". Roland Berger Stiftung. Retrieved 16 September 2011. 
  30. ^ "Honorary Degrees". Regis University. Retrieved October 7, 2010. 
  31. ^ Pearl, Mariane. "Global Diary Cambodia: The Sex Slave Tragedy". Glamour. Retrieved 19 September 2011. 

External links[edit]