Cambodia Won’t Let Somaly Mam Start New NGO

Somaly Mam may want to forget all about Newsweek’s cover story on her in May and start over in her anti-sex-trafficking activism, but Cambodia won’t let her, according to The Cambodia Daily.

By Stav Ziv  |  10/4/14 at 10:49 AM

Somaly Mam may want to forget all about Newsweek’s cover story on her in May and start over in her anti-sex-trafficking activism, but Cambodia won’t let her, according to The Cambodia Daily.

“We are not going to allow her to run this kind of activity again,” Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Thursday, according to the Daily. The government does not see her operating a new nongovernmental organization (NGO), Siphan said, but if she does, “we can stop her from doing that, because it is a breach of trust, because she used a huge amount of international money.”

Mam had been “one of the world’s most compelling activists, brave and beautiful, and her list of supporters is long and formidable,” Simon Marks wrote in his May 30 story for Newsweek.

Marks noted that Mam’s 2005 autobiography, The Road to Lost Innocence, was an international best-seller; Time named her one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2009; and she rubbed elbows with “the good, the great and the super-rich,” including former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton, actresses Meg Ryan and Susan Sarandon, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Queen Sofia of Spain.

However, as Marks began to discover in his reporting for the Daily, there were inconsistencies in her story. In his Newsweek article, he flagged one after another, including different versions Mam had given of her time allegedly spent working in a brothel; girls who had fabricated trafficking stories at Mam’s behest; and friends, family members and rights workers who remember things quite differently.

Her foundation, the Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF), had already launched an independent third-party investigation in April, and Mam resigned from the SMF at the end of May,
according to the foundation’s website. Shortly afterward, the SMF stopped all of its funding to AFESIP, an organization that “cares for and secures the rights of women and girls victimized by human trafficking and sex slavery,” according to its website, which Mam and her then
husband, Pierre Legros, had founded in the 1990s, according to Marks.

Siphan’s remarks that Cambodia would bar Mam from operating a new NGO came just two weeks after Marie Claire published the activist’s first interview since the scandal broke—a chance for her to tell “her side of things”—and Mam’s new public relations representatives have begun a campaign to repair her image.

“I didn’t lie,” Mam told Marie Claire’s Abigail Pesta. She said she hadn’t responded to the allegations against her because “I was not silent. I had so many lives to fix.”

According to The Daily Beast, the same day Marie Claire’s story was published, publicist Scott Gorenstein of Jonathan Marder & Co. wrote in an email to journalists:

“Somaly Mam wants her dignity and reputation restored… It is her hope that having set the record straight, she can return to the work of rescuing and rehabilitating victims of human trafficking and to helping to halt sexual slavery in all its forms.”

But Cambodia, it seems, will not be on board for such an endeavor, according to the Daily. Mam “misled the world,” Siphan said, and although she will not be prosecuted, “she has no right to do that activity anymore [here], and we don’t want to see this kind of case again.”

On his Facebook page, the Daily reports, Siphan wrote on Wednesday:

“I regret that Ms. Mam Somaly, director of Afesip, who fabricated a bad story in order to get personal benefits, by cheating the queen of Spain and the German president, as well as the world, wasting millions of dollars and also damaging the honor and face of Cambodia as a whole.”

An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to an article from The Cambodian Daily. The article came from The Cambodia Daily.