It has been rumbling for a while but a scandal in Cambodia surrounding the false claims of a charity dedicated to helping child sex slaves has erupted in the capital Phnom Penh and like rolling thunder will I assume finally hit Hollywood, and New York’s glitterati.

It seems the charities created by Somaly Mam an attractive Cambodian lady lauded in Time magazine in 2009 as one of the world top 100 most influential women and highly praised by the New York Times, are based on considerable hyping.

Even Hollywood stars such as Angelina Jolie, Susan Sarandan, and Russell Brand have got in on the projects of Somaly Man, recipient of the Prince of Asturias Award for International Co-operation.

Actress AnnaLynne Mcord has skydived to raise cash.

Somaly Mam, author of ‘The Road of Lost Innocence’ and President of the Somaly Mam Foundation (Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is on the board)  cuts a fine figure in the charity world. Beautiful and gutsy she has become the darling of New York cocktail parties.

But according to yesterday’s Cambodia Daily some of her claims are just not true.

With Susan Sarandan a member of
the board of the Somaly Mam

She was propelled onto the world’s stage from obscurity way back in 1988 with the harrowing television interview of a Cambodian child Meas Ratha, who told a gripping but tragic story of abuse as a child prostitute.

Now that young girl is grown up and married and feeling pangs of guilt.

Sixteen years since the documentary was televised, Ms. Ratha—now 32 years old and married—said her testimony for the France 2 channel was fabricated and scripted for her by Ms. Mam as a means of drumming up support for the organization.

“The video that you see, everything that I put in is not my story,” Ms. Ratha told The Cambodia Daily.

 Ms. Ratha, who was simultaneously anxious and determined to let people know the truth, said she could no longer continue a lie that had followed her for half her life.

“Somaly said that…if I want to help another woman I have to do [the interview] very well,” Ms. Ratha said.

“You know, my reputation has been lost because of this video,” said Ms. Ratha, who speaks competent English, adding that she had struggled to live with being typecast as a former sex slave since agreeing to tell the fabricated story.(The Cambodia Daily)

“Everybody saw me and say ‘I a prostitute. Her mother sold her.’ They say like this. Everybody looks down on me.”

Meas Ratha is shown on the video doing normal childhood things like playing musical chairs and skipping while being looked after by Somaly Mam’s charity ‘Agir Pour Les Femmes en Situation Precaire’ (Afesip)
These are not the first time such allegations of fabrication have been made up.

Mom Somaly has also claimed in front of the United Nations General Assembly that eight girls she rescued from the sex industry in Phnom Penh had been killed by the Cambodian Army after they raided her shelter.

She was made to admit that last year that this was not true.

And she has also been accused by her ex -husband Pierre Legros of lying by saying her own daughter was kidnapped in 2006 by human traffickers. Legros accused her of a publicity stunt to raise funds.

The Cambodia Daily in its own investigation also found a young woman who publicly stated that she had her eye gouged out when she refused to have sex after being trafficked to a brothel.

The woman, Long Pros, had also fabricated her story which she gave on television in prime time interviews.

However, according to the Phnom Penh Daily, medical records and interviews with Ms. Pros’ parents and her eye surgeon showed she had her eye removed in hospital because of a tumour that developed in her childhood.

“Ms. Pros’ parents said she was sent directly from their home to Ms. Mam’s organization in Phnom Penh simply to get an education and she had never spent any time in a brothel,” wrote Cambodian Daily reporters Simon Marks and Phorn Bopha.

Just how Hollywood, the New York Times and Time magazine are going to react to this story has yet to be seen.

Beauty treatment from former trafficked child sex slaves

This week The Somaly Mam Foundation announced on The International Day of the Girl, the opening of the Somaly Mam Beauty Salon, a social enterprise developed in partnership with The Estée Lauder Companies.

The full service beauty salon, located in Siem Reap, Cambodia, will cater to tourists and locals alike, while providing survivors of sexual slavery and human trafficking with the education and vocational training needed to achieve socioeconomic independence – RYOT News
This website has already highlighted the activities, false claims and criticisms of the charities ‘The Grey Man’ and ‘SISHA’ who have been ‘hunting down’ paedophiles in South East Asia.

But its not all bad news. Several girls, who would not have because its not just enough to live in poverty and squalor, have now benefited from an education in Somaly Mam’s home province of Takeo and have now done so without having to go through a brothel ordeal. In fact it was Meas Ratha’s family who caused the storm over the fake interview in the first place. Several girls were ‘screen tested’ by Soumaly Mam in the first place – the best actresses were used, it was claimed by witnesses speaking to The Cambodia Daily.

Footnote: There is no suggestion that either the Somaly Mam Founation or ‘Agir Pour Les Femmes en Situation Precaire’ does not do good work for trafficked children. But people may be concerned about how much is spent on trafficked victims and how much is spent on executives, expenses, etc – see the link below. The Somaly Mam Foundation may have also to correct some expensively produced publicity materials they have put out.



What Angelina Jolie told TIME

The New York Times Op-ed


  1. Is the note at the end…. ' There is no suggestion that either the Somaly Mam Founation or ‘Agir Pour Les Femmes en Situation Precaire’ does not do good work for trafficked children.' ….. your way of an apology or lessening the guilt of ruining an otherwise possibly good organisation ?

    Headlines, its all about the headlines.

    1. Not at all Sam. I have no idea of what work they do personally. The comment was probably unnecessary. Similar allegations have been made before but the current one in the Cambodia Daily is the most comprehensive. I do not think the end justify the means is applicable in this case. But clearly if they are looking after kids whether trafficked or not and giving them an education is worth of brownie points.
      Some people might find their actions rather funny – many won't and have not.

    2. PS – I cannot take credit for 'running an otherwise possibly good organisation' though. And the headlines are pretty much justified by the Cambodia Daily copy. There are certain standards which NGO's have to be accountable to.

  2. The foreign charity sector does seem to attract a lot of parasites….Andrew McGregor Marshall is running similar stories in his ever active FB feed right know although it's not as nuanced as here….

    It certainly should be exposed as by weeding these outfits out, money can go to more deserving organisations…

  3. I believe the practice of exposing a 14-year old rural poor Cambodian girl, (supposedly) traumatised by sexual violence, to tell "her" story in front of a Western television team is proof enough that there are some ethical issues to consider. (I would also claim that France 2 maybe should have thought twice before airing it. I do not think they would like to see their child in that situation being interviewed to tell "their" story.)

    And yes, I recommend to read that revealing Daily report on Somaly Mam Foundation…

    There are other organisations in Phnom Penh working with trafficked girls and young women well worth supporting. The really professional ones will never expose their girls and young women like this (or themselves).
    And I agree with Andrew: there are certain standards for NGO's. If the claims in the CD are right there is a problem.

  4. I have spent a while watching Somaly Mam on lots of US celebrity shows. I have to say I find something a little bit worrying here. Yes the Estee Lauder connection others seem to show that businessmen have turned this into a circus. Some, including Somaly, are claiming 100,000 + dollar salaries out of the Somaly Mam Foundation as the Cambodia Daily revealed – rather graciously without comment

  5. It takes money to make money no doubt, but yes it has to be all relative at the end of the day. Not many people can simply give up their time and life to help, it still costs money to live and dependent on ones own personal financial requirements as to how much for each person. We all wish we had enough to support our lives without requiring work, but alas we are not all Bill Gates type of people. So, people have to be paid unless you find exceptional individuals in specialised circumstances that do not need the shackles of income to bind them. Some people seem to forget this when complaining about organisations that do good.

    As for the girl in question that starred in the film at 14yo…I have to wonder how and why she was ok to live with this until 32yo ??

    Unfortunately with the hiccups in the roads of sisha and grey man of late, everyone then looks down on every other operator. Should not be the case, but thats human nature. Lots of people do lots of good things, that should not be ignored because of a few….even some hiccups could be forgiven if the over riding achievements of the organisation are exemplary…..of course with anything it does depend on what 'exactly' goes on……not all same same

Comments are closed.