• Helene Bamberger/Cosmos, via Redux

    Savior Complexes

    Somaly Mam & the Cult Of Pretty Victims

    Yes, the famous anti-sex-trafficking activist fudged certain facts to gain attention for her cause—but this sorry tale should make us concerned about our own need for photogenic girls to save.

    Somaly Mam, one of the world’s most famous anti-sex-trafficking activists, resigned as head of the Somaly Mam Foundation on Wednesday, after Newsweek published an expose by Simon Marks accusing Mam of lying about her background and fabricating some of the sob stories of underage sex trafficking she used to gain attention and funding for her cause. Marks detailed how Mam’s story of being forced into prostitution as a child—her age for when she first started shifted in each telling—didn’t jibe with the memories of her from classmates and family members. More troubling, Marks also accused Mam of encouraging young women who had not been trafficked to lie about it, coughing up lurid stories of rape and abuse in order to get wealthy donors to open their wallets.

    Are there larger lessons to be learned from this whole sordid tale? Marks resists anyone who might use this to deny that sex trafficking is a serious problem, though he does argue that “the scale and dynamics of the situation are often misunderstood, in part because of lurid, sensationalistic stories such as those told by Mam and her ‘girls.’” But this should be a wake-up call, an opportunity for people in the feminist and non-profit world to seriously consider some troubling trends that may hamper the long-term ability to enact change. Namely, there’s way too much emphasis being put on heroic figures overcoming adversity and too little attention paid to systems of oppression. In addition, there’s a serious problem of issues being highlighted not because they are the most pressing or widespread issues, but because they are the least likely to draw controversy that might run off wealthy celebrities who only want the safest causes to publicly support.

    Permalink
  • Somaly Mam. (Michael Angelo; Courtesy Somaly Mam Foundation)

    Freedom

    My Own 12 Years A Slave

    Somaly Mam on the similarities between her life in Cambodia's trafficking rings and the tale of Solomon Northrup.

    On Friday, November 1, Twelve Years a Slave opened in theatres nationwide propelling the topic of human trafficking and slavery to kitchen tables and water coolers across America. Solomon Northrup’s story is hard to watch. It’s violent, disturbing, and painful, but his story demands telling.

    My story needed telling, too. And our stories have much in common. Though I was sold into slavery in Cambodia as a child, and Solomon in the United States as an adult, we both faced the brutal realities of slavery. We were both born free, but because of the cultural context in which we were raised, because of our skin color, and in my case gender, we were left completely vulnerable to the slave trade.

    Permalink
  • Mu Sochua from the Cambodian National Rescue Party talks to supporters before speeches by the Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy and Vice President Kem Sokha at Freedom Park on August 26, 2013 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy and Vice President Kem Sokha spoke to a crowd of around 10, 000 supporters, where they called on supporters to gather in Phnom Penh for mass demonstrations if an independent commission is not set up to investigate election results. (Nicolas Axelrod/Getty)

    Grassroots

    Cambodia's Women Call For Fair Elections

    After a voting season riddled with alleged voter fraud, activist Mu Sochua and her network of women plan to train female candidates to run in the country's next election.

    “Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia”: Once a phrase commonly seen on banners in Phnom Penh, it has now taken to the streets.

    Over a month after the 2013 general elections in Cambodia, planned demonstrations against the results are taking place worldwide. Following decades of civil war, with peace came ignorance, as the tiny nation lying south of Thailand was so often overlooked. After years of international disregard, Cambodia is slowly being placed back on the world’s political map, with democracy looming in the horizon.

    Permalink
  • National Rescue Party member Mu Sochua, center, poses for photographs with villagers during a visit to Boeung Kak lake, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Aug. 5, 2013. Cambodian election officials promised to release complete general election results and ratify them as official if there are no complaints from the contending political parties. (Heng Sinith/AP)

    P’Dho, We Can

    The Women of the Cambodian Spring

    During the country's most recent election, opposition parliamentarian Mu Sochua saw her brave countrywomen standing up to corruption and demanding change.

    After intense campaigning throughout Cambodia that took more than 12 months—from the mountains of Mondulkiri to the former stronghold of the Khmer Rouge in Samlot—the 2013 general election produced the result we’d all been aiming for: P’Dho, Chneas. Change, We Can.

    Against all odds, change was delivered to the people when over 6 million voters—more than half of whom were women under 30—went to the polls July 28, and the united opposition, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), won the trust of the people. We had no luxury cars. We had no access to state media. The international community did not give us the slightest chance, but we maintained the same strong determination that Cambodia needed a new beginning.

    Permalink