Activist Somaly Mam Resigns from Anti-Sex Slavery Foundation

Image: Somaly Mam
Anti-sex-trafficking activist Somaly Mam in Singapore to speak at a forum in June 2012.Lim Wui Liang / Singapore Press via AP file

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Cambodian activist Somaly Mam resigned Wednesday from the eponymous foundation she helped start to fight global sex trafficking after an investigation of her personal history, the organization said.

“We have accepted Somaly’s resignation effective immediately,” said a statement from Gina Reiss-Wilchins, executive director of the Somaly Mam Foundation.

“While we are extremely saddened by this news, we remain grateful to Somaly’s work over the past two decades and for helping to build a foundation that has served thousands of women and girls, and has raised critical awareness of the nearly 21 million individuals who are currently enslaved today.”

Mam told an inspiring story of being sold into sexual slavery in 1979, then meeting and marrying a Frenchman in the 1990s before starting a nonprofit dedicated to helping young women escape the sex trade.

Author and human rights advocate Somaly Mam attends the Somaly Mam Foundation Gala on Oct. 23, 2013 in New York.Andy Kropa / Invision via AP file

The publication of an autobiography in 2005 and founding of the Somaly Mam Foundation soon after brought worldwide fame that took her to the White House and the United Nations.

But allegations have circulated over the past few years that Mam had exaggerated claims about her past and about rescuing girls from sex trafficking.

The foundation said in April that it had launched an investigation into the allegations. A Newsweek story on May 21 about the allegations also prompted a response from the foundation.

On Wednesday, the foundation said the resignation of Mam came as a result of a two-month investigation by the law firm Goodwin Procter LLP, which the foundation had retained.

The foundation also said that it had severed any ties to Long Pross, a woman who had claimed to have been tortured by a brothel owner as a young girl and was rescued by Mam's nonprofit. Pross went on to tell her story on "Oprah."

Reiss-Wilchins defended the work of the foundation, which provides funding for several groups that fight sex and human trafficking.

"Despite our heartfelt disappointment, the work of the Foundation and our grant partners must and will carry on,” her statement said. “We have touched the lives of over 100,000 women and girls. We have treated nearly 6,000 individuals at a free medical clinic in Phnom Penh’s red light district and engaged nearly 6,400 students in anti-trafficking activism.”