Cambodian activist Somaly Mam resigns amid questions over child sex slave story
Reports point out inconsistencies in campaigner’s autobiography as supposed victims confess their stories were made up and rehearsed for television cameras
One of the world’s best-known anti-sex slavery activists has resigned from her foundation after questions were raised about her shocking story of being sold into a brothel as a child.
Somaly Mam, a glamorous and energetic Cambodian campaigner, boasts a string of celebrity supporters and has been named a CNN hero of the year, but recently she has been at the centre of controversy.
Her decision to step down follows an investigation by the US-based law firm Goodwin Procter into her personal history, according to a statement released late on Wednesday by her eponymous foundation, which did not reveal what the probe had uncovered.
“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 statement said.
Mam says she was sold into a brothel as a child by her “grandfather” and repeatedly raped and abused until, after seeing a friend killed in front of her, she escaped.
“I was completely broken,” she said in 2012.
But the English-language newspaper The Cambodia Daily and Newsweek magazine have reported what they say are inconsistencies in her account.
The Newsweek story, titled “Somaly Mam: The Holy Saint (and Sinner) of Sex Trafficking”, said its own interviews with the activist’s childhood acquaintances, teachers and local officials contradicted important parts of her autobiography.
The foundation said it had also severed links with another supposed victim of sex trafficking, Long Pros.
Pros’s family told Newsweek that she was never a victim of sex trafficking, despite her story that as a young sex slave she was tortured with electric wires and had an eye gouged out by an angry pimp.
Another girl has confessed that her story was fabricated and carefully rehearsed for the cameras under Mam’s instruction, the report said.
Mam is no stranger to controversy. In 2011 she allowed a The New York Times correspondent to “live-tweet” a brothel raid in Cambodia – a move slammed by other campaigners as a PR stunt.
She also takes a controversially hardline stance that all sex workers are victims.
Her foundation said that despite its “heartfelt disappointment” it would carry on but on a “revised course”.
“Our work changes lives and we remain dedicated to it,” the statement said.
There are more than 34,000 commercial sex workers in Cambodia, according to a 2009 government estimate.
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 May, 2014, 3:15pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 May, 2014, 3:23pm
I feel sad to hear that the 3 stories of Somaly Mam, Chong Lim (“Eden” movie) and Tania Head (9/11) are fake. And because all three did good work to raise awareness of the issues more than anyone.
These 3 people shows signs of Münchausen syndrome and their desperate need to fake trauma as real, and the need to be famous, accepted, and glorified.
Although they did good volunteer work but they were ultimately living a lie and were holding onto an untruthful psychotic glory. The temptation to over-sensationalize, lie, grossly exaggerate, or to fake the truth is enormous. But Truth will set you free.
This reminds me of two other fake stories one with Chong Lim (“Eden” movie on sex slavery in USA), and Tania Head, “The woman who wasn’t there in World Trade Tower in 9/11 (story in the next article).
When I first heard about Korea-born American Chong Kim‘s story and the making of the “Eden” I was shocked like many others. But I detected inconsistencies and the story was OTT and over-sensationalized. Now the truth is out and here’s a Twitter message from the film director:
Read articles on Chong Kim by critics:
Münchausen syndrome is a psychiatric factitious disorder wherein those affected feign disease, illness, or psychological trauma to draw attention, sympathy, or reassurance to themselves.
In Münchausen syndrome, the affected person exaggerates or creates symptoms of illnesses in themselves to gain investigation, treatment, attention, sympathy, and comfort from medical personnel. In some extreme cases, people suffering from Münchausen’s syndrome are highly knowledgeable about the practice of medicine and are able to produce symptoms that result in lengthy and costly medical analysis, prolonged hospital stay and unnecessary operations.
The syndrome name derives from Baron Münchhausen (Karl Friedrich Hieronymus Freiherr von Münchhausen, 1720–1797), a German nobleman working in the Russian army, who purportedly told many fantastic and impossible stories about himself, which Rudolf Raspe later published as The Surprising Adventures of Baron Münchhausen.
In 1951, Richard Asher was the first to describe a pattern of self-harm, wherein individuals fabricated histories, signs, and symptoms of illness. Remembering Baron Münchhausen, Asher named this condition Münchausen’s Syndrome in his article in The Lancet in February 1951, quoted in his obituary in the British Medical Journal:
“Here is described a common syndrome which most doctors have seen, but about which little has been written. Like the famous Baron von Munchausen, the persons affected have always travelled widely; and their stories, like those attributed to him, are both dramatic and untruthful. Accordingly the syndrome is respectfully dedicated to the Baron, and named after him.”
—British Medical Journal, R.A.J. Asher, M.D., F.R.C.P.
Originally, this term was used for all factitious disorders. Now, however, there is considered to be a wide range of factitious disorders, and the diagnosis of “Münchausen syndrome” is reserved for the most severe form, where the simulation of disease is the central activity of the affected person’s life.