Sex slavery activist Somaly Mam quits foundation after book probe

Somaly Mam has helped young women escape sexual exploitation, but her history is in question

In her memoir "The Road of Lost Innocence," Somaly Mam wrote of being sold into sex slavery, then eventually making her way to freedom and working to make sure other girls escaped that fate. But now new questions about her past have prompted the author and activist against sex trafficking to resign from her own foundation, the Associated Press reported.

Mam's story was dramatic, tragic and triumphant. She said she was a Cambodian orphan taken in by an abusive older man who sold off her virginity. She also claimed she was forced to marry a violent soldier and later was sold into a brothel in Phnom Penh, becoming a prostitute subject to physical torture. Her tale was humiliating and dehumanizing.

She said that after gaining incremental freedoms, she met a Frenchman living in Cambodia and the two were married. They lived in France but returned to Cambodia, where Mam began working to save girls from sexual slavery. Because of that work, she suffered assaults and death threats. She is said to have saved thousands of girls from sexual exploitation.

Her book was published in France in 2005 and became a bestseller there; it was published in the U.S. in 2008.  In 2006, she was named Glamour's Woman of the Year; in 2009, she was named as one of the Time magazine 100.

However, some of her story didn't ring true. Last week, a Newsweek cover story featured an expose of Mam. Parts of her book, and the stories that she shared after its publication, are thought to have been fabricated.

Fellow villagers in Cambodia said she was not an orphan. "Rights workers and police officials," the report said, "have also strongly denied highly publicized claims by Mam, in Glamour magazine and The New York Times, that traffickers kidnapped her 14-year-old daughter in 2006 and videotaped the girl being gang-raped in retaliation for Mam’s work." They said the kidnapping never happened, and that young teen had run away with her boyfriend.  

On Wednesday, the New York-based Somaly Mam Foundation announced that Mam had resigned from her position as president. The move came after a law firm had conducted a two-month investigation of her claims for the foundation. The results of the probe were not made public.

"The Road of Lost Innocence," remains for sale online; used copies can be found for less than $5.

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