Last week Newsweek and Salon.com presented two disturbing articles about Cambodian sex trafficking survivor Somaly Mam and her eponymous foundation. The former exposed a series of major lies about Ms. Mam's life story that resulted in her resignation from the Foundation. The latter raised disturbing questions about the extent to which these lies have lead to further harm for the Cambodian women Ms. Mam, her foundation and other NGOs aim to help.
First let's discuss specific harm. I spent the last four years making the film Tricked about sex trafficking and I am here to say there are no happy endings for those who have been forced to work in the sex industry. There is no need to embellish horror stories; the truth is harsh enough.
The anti-trafficking movement faces significant opposition from those who enjoy or profit from the sex industry. Culturally, politically and within the criminal justice system globally, recognition of the harm prostitution causes is barely recognized and not fully understood. When stories of suffering are fabricated, a powerful tool of denial is delivered to exploiters and the damage done to bona fide victims is tragically undermined. Fabrications open the floodgates to opportunistic deniers. The struggle for credibility is eroded.
Journalists, celebrities, NGOs and filmmakers all have a responsibility to record and share real stories and to do so truthfully. The manifesto of 3 Generations, the organization I founded to tell the stories of survivors of crimes against humanity, has always been to allow survivors to tell their stories exactly as they wish to tell them.
Years ago we learned a powerful lesson from a young survivor of the Rwandan genocide -- she wanted to talk about her life after the genocide, how she made a future for herself and her siblings, but most especially how she had found a job. Her truth shone through. Here is Francine's story -- exactly as she wished to tell it.
At 3 Generations we believe that stories should not be manipulated to raise money, to advance political or other agendas. The stories of individuals who have experienced crimes against humanity are a vital resource for posterity and exist to herald a better future. They are a record, a memorial and a warning and as such, they should be cherished and respected. In order to honor survivors we must listen to them, and listen carefully. There is no need to fabricate and exaggerate. Abuses and suffering are real and present. So are exploiters, abusers, profiteers and deniers.
There is no place for fiction in the not-for-profit world.