Sex-trafficking, fraud and money at the Somaly Mam Foundation
October 16, 2013 10:11 AM   Subscribe

Cambodia Daily just ran two controversial features on Somaly Mam, a well-known trafficking survivor and head of the anti-trafficking non-profit, the Somaly Mam Foundation that funds shelters in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Somaly Mam, Cambodia's most well-known anti-trafficking activist, partly due to Nicholas Kristof whose "live tweeting" a brothel raid with Somaly Mam was roundly criticised by other NGOs in Cambodia, is accused of false stories of abuse, murder and kidnapping of young women, and the organization of hugely over-paying top staff including Somaly Mam herself.

Sex Slave Story Revealed to be Fabricated interviews one of the women who as a teenager spoke about her ordeal as a survivor of trafficking to raise funds for SMF, a story she now says wasn't hers but a script she was chosen to repeat because she was bright and well-spoken, in exchange for free education at a shelter. Another survivor's story, Long Pros, is also in question with an alleged childhood injury instead of a brothel owner's eye gouging.

Also mentioned is the UN speech where Somaly Mam claimed young women in a brothel were shot by the Cambodian police during a rescue attempt, later recanted, and her earlier claims that her daughter was kidnapped and gang-raped in response to Somaly Mam's work, a claim denied by her ex-husband (who now runs an anti-trafficking NGO himself in Cambodia) and the daughter.

Why use false or exaggerated stories when the reality of sex work in Cambodia is so bleak and violent?

As the accompanying feature The Rise of the Somaly Mam Foundation reports, because it pays very very well.

Somaly Mam's salary has steadily increased along with other executive staff to nearly 14% of the 2011 expenditures, nearly as much as the 16% that went to the main shelter in Cambodia. That puts SMF in company with other charities with highly-paid executive staff and less going to the actual programs - Somaly Mam Foundation in 2011 managed to hit just 23% in programs grants, the other 77% else going to fundraising, administration and staff. Ron Robinson who topped Charity Navigator's list for overpaid charity executives, took 3.4% of Young America's Foundation, less than half the share that the CEO position at SMF, held by Bill Livermore and then Rigmor Schneider, US$253,429 for 7% of the total budget.

The SMF's annual financial report for the same period reports a very different picture from their 990IRS form for 2011 (Charity Navigator requires registration), claiming 66% of their expenses went to "grants and other programs".

Bangkok-based journalist Andrew Drummond's tabloidish take and Khmer440, an expat forum with bleak humor, discuss the new reports and rumors. Criticism of the SMF and Afesip has simmered for a long time, from sex workers and sex work organizations, other aid workers and others in Cambodia.
posted by syncope (7 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Really kind of odd that no one's commented on this before now, given the blue's previous experience with sex trafficking. Maybe because it's at the intersection of two hot-button topics: sex trafficking and charities with high overheads?
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:14 PM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I will, as always, take my cue from Ashton Kutcher to let me know if these critics are objectively pro-sexual slavery.
posted by jpe at 1:14 PM on October 16, 2013

Thanks for posting this and all the links.
posted by Mister Bijou at 6:28 PM on October 16, 2013

One of the original interviewers comments: Is it possible that they weren’t telling me the truth? Yes, I suppose it is. Does it matter? Yes and it matters that Somaly Mam may have fabricated other parts of her own story.

She’s not the saint that we would want her to be. Still, I don’t think it should entirely overshadow the fact that Mam helped draw worldwide attention to Cambodia’s thriving sex-tourism industry and that she has helped a large number of girls and young women.

posted by viggorlijah at 9:12 PM on October 16, 2013

If you are surprised to see graft in Cambodia, you have never been to Cambodia. This is a really well put together FPP, but I can't say that I am surprised to see things playing out this way.
posted by Literaryhero at 11:06 PM on October 16, 2013

@Literaryhero, the people making the most money out of this are the US-based non-Cambodian CEOs taking approximately US$20,000 a month.
posted by viggorlijah at 2:00 AM on October 18, 2013

This makes me very sad. I got to see Mam speak a few years ago, and have widely recommended her book. I've bought people gifts from her website. How disheartening, when there is so much good that stands to be done.
posted by SeedStitch at 9:34 AM on October 18, 2013

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