It's not exactly news that Somaly Mam, head of the anti-trafficking non-profit The Somaly Mam Foundation, has been accused of fabricating her own story of sexual slavery and abuse. But today, the story made it all the way to Newsweek. Respected former call girl Maggie McNeill blogged about the issue in 2013 and 2011, and in 2012 wrote about the psychological self-deception that might be at play. Dr. Laura Agustin wrote this piece attacking Somaly Mam's idea of sex worker empowerment over a decade ago, and in this 2011 blog post criticizes a live-tweeted brothel raid carried out by Mam and Nicholas Kristof. Previously. Previously. Previously.
The modern slave trade is thriving. The Dept of State estimates that 800,000 to 900,000 human beings are trafficked - brought across borders and forced to labor. Among them, DOS estimates, hundreds of thousands are minor children. Some of those children - as young as 5 years old - are being sold as slaves and kept in cages while they are raped and sold for sex, some servicing as many as 30 men a day. They are bought for as little as $10 from desperate parents. But all is not lost: Somaly Mam, a former child prostitute, is the Mother Theresa of Southeast Asian child prostitutes, using AFESIP as her vehicle for saving them. Glamour awarded her their Woman of the Year honor, and she has been lauded in other ways internationally. Cambodian sex traffickers weren't as happy with her, though - her opponents kidnapped her 14-year old daughter, held her hostage for days, and raped her. It's hard to be on the wrong side of this issue, but some advocates raise a few hackles by claiming legalized prostitution and porn contribute to sex trafficking and child prostitution. Sex trafficking, and child prostitution, is a sizeable problem in the US as well. Although trafficking is illegal in the US, combating trafficking is tough in part because victims often fear authorities, personal reprisals, harm to their families at home, or even deportation (although special visas - T visas - are available to them in certain circumstances). In Southeast Asia (and throughout the world), child sex tourism is even harder to stop.