Cambodian anti-sex trafficking activist Somaly Mam has broken her silence to defend herself and her work, saying she didn’t lie about how she became a victim of sex slavery.
But in an exclusive interview with VOA's Khmer Service, she admitted she made mistakes in how she led the Somaly Mam Foundation dedicated to ending the sex trade and rescuing women ensnared in it.
At first, her story as a former sex slave who rose up to combat human trafficking earned her fame and the support of major international celebrities.
But a Newsweek story published in May of this year cast doubt on her original story, and she later resigned from the Somaly Mam Foundation. Now, she has decided to speak publicly to deny the allegations leveled against her.
“No woman would simply claim she was a former sex worker,” she said. “It’s impossible. As we know, the words ‘sex worker’ ruins our dignity. Therefore, I need everybody to understand that.”
She also explained why she did not confront the magazine when the story broke earlier this year.
“For me the most important thing is not to confront anybody. Why should I fight back? I have been abused since I was a kid. That’s the first thing. And secondly, I think that people can see who is lying and who is still working every day? I’m working every day with children. I don’t want to claim what is good. I want the Cambodian people to judge whether or not this is good. I was born not to be loved by everybody, but to take care of those who share the same lives as me,” said Somaly Mam.
She said she left the Somaly Mam Foundation because she was asked her to recant her story.
“They said I was not forced to be a sex worker,” she said. “They don’t understand how we feel. They don’t know our backgrounds clearly.”
The Somaly Mam Foundation is now defunct. “As of September 30, we officially ceased all operations, ended all grant funding, and permanently closed our doors,” a statement on its website says.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Khmer Service.