Are We Letting the Scandal Over Somaly Mam Distort the Realities of Child Trafficking?

As I have followed the scandal surrounding Somaly Mam unfold, I have tried not to "pile on" as so much anguish has already been felt over this betrayal and my voice could not add much to case against her. But then I saw this article, and I knew it was time to speak up. What these revelations have done is to not only tarnish the reputation of Ms. Mam and those of her supporters, but it has laid the groundwork for the naysayers to gain the bully pulpit and deny that there is a problem.

First let's recall who Somaly Mam is. She claimed to have been forced into a terrible life of sex slavery, trafficked into a life of pain, suffering and unendurable acts of aggression visited upon her. She became an icon for the struggle many of us wage relentlessly against this barbaric and inhumane practice. In so doing she brought great PR to the issue.

Her fall from grace, however, has allowed people like Elizabeth Nolan Brown to state in the article noted above that:

"It's almost impossible to argue with people who buy this narrative, because the more evidence you present challenging sex trafficking's pervasiveness the more they see proof that sex trafficking is so under the radar we need to throw more cops and money and laws at it.

"As we've seen time and again, however, these tactics tend to under-produce on the stopping sex trafficking front and overcompensate by targeting consenting adult sex workers--either by arresting them or labeling them victims and sending them to things like 'prostitution diversion therapy.' The majority of genuine sex trafficking cases that are uncovered tend to be older teens - still terrible, but far from the horror stories we hear from anti-trafficking advocates, who insist throngs of young girls are being sold as sex slaves."

I have no knowledge of Ms. Brown's experiences or if she has ever been to a rescue shelter where young girls 8, 9, 10 years old are being treated... but I can tell you that I have been there, in California, in Nepal, in India and many other places. These children have had their childhood ripped from them and their bodies, minds and hearts are so damaged by the time they reach puberty they become pariahs. I challenge Ms. Brown to come and visit a shelter here in California where young girls 10 and 11 from Mexico are hustled across the border and beaten into submission so they can take their role as prostitutes, or to come with me to India and visit a rehabilitation center there for hundreds of young girls, some only 8 years old, who had been servicing 15 men a day in brothels, and I challenge her to look at them -- these children, who once had hopes and dream, now devoid of any sentiment at all and staring blankly at an uncertain future.

Many argue that Somaly Mam did a lot to focus attention on the plight of these children even if she was lying about her own circumstances and, indeed, she did. But now it turns out that may have caused irreparable damage.

At World of Children Award we do everything possible to guard against recognizing anyone who might be a fraud. How do we do it? We hire a private professional international investigative agency to do a full background check BEFORE we recognize and Honor anyone. We do not have the hubris to believe that we know how to conduct an investigation in Cambodia or India or Africa or even the USA, but the professionals in the industry do and we happily pay them to make sure the people we select are above reproach. In fact, in our first 17 years the investigations have uncovered dozens of cases where the potential for misrepresentation could have occurred. We believe that if they had investigated Somaly Mam they would have uncovered the problem years ago.

Let's hope that the cause of the hundreds of thousands of young girls and boys trafficked into sex slavery each year has not been buried by a couple of publicity seeking, dishonest people and that the horrible cries for help and justice that these children render each day will be heard and answered.