Somaly Mam runs an organization that operates women’s shelters in Southeast Asia. A prominent figure in the anti-sex-trafficking movement, she’s spoken at the White House, been honored as one of Time’s most influential people on Earth, and appeared on The Tyra Banks Show. A Newsweek story today by writer Simon Marks, though, accuses Mam of promoting herself through extensive fabrication; the magazine says the activist has made false claims about her own alleged past as a victim of abuse and encouraged others affiliated with her organization to do so as well.
Among its specific allegations, Newsweek says that two women who have appeared publicly on the group’s behalf to speak about their past as child sex slaves—Long Pross and Meas Ratha—were never sex workers at all, but were brought into Mam’s care by their parents. Perhaps more significantly, Marks says that residents of Mam’s home village remember her moving there with her parents and attending school from 1981 through 1987, when she would have been about 16 or 17 years old. Mam has, in her autobiography and public statements, claimed to have been kept as a slave from 1979 onward by an older man who sold her into a violent arranged marriage at age 14, after which she became a sex slave in a brothel.
The Somaly Mam Foundation says it has launched a third-party investigation into the allegations.