Somaly Mam said she was trafficked into a brothel as a young girl in Cambodia. Then she escaped, and helping others came to run a couple of organizations in Cambodia that battled forced prostitution. She wrote an autobiography, was feted at the State Department and Kennedy Center, and celebrated by journalists, including the New York Times
But then Newsweek, after previously celebrating Somaly Mam, suggested recently that her back story might have been faked. And a parallel accusation suggests Long Pross, a young woman who had worked with Somaly Mam, concocted her story about losing an eye to a violent brothel manager. Newsweek says she lost the eye naturally. Both Somaly Mam and Long Pross stick by their stories.
The sex trafficking situation improved in Cambodia over the years, and New York Times writer, Nicholas Kristof believes Somaly deserves some credit for that (along with State Department pressure and many other factors). But he notes that simply doing good work doesn’t give anyone the right to embellish their backstory.
And while Kristoff highlights that truth is paramount, it’s significant that 21 million people worldwide are subjected to forced labor, including forced prostitution, according to the International Labor Organization.
So while sorting out the facts will take time, he now has some regrets about writing about her and wonders if the same is true of The Washington Post, CNN, Time and other news organizations. Yet he aspires that people will be as diligent in covering the scandal that is human trafficking as they may be in following the scandal of false or embellished backstories.
Photo licensed under Creative Commons from Gideon Wright on flickr