These are the women whose stories are not told in an anti-trafficking fund-raising pitch. Some of the “victims” whom Ms. Mam said she saved then attempted to escape from her shelters, only to have her claim to the press that they had been “kidnapped.” She later apologized for a 2012 speech before the United Nations General Assembly in which she asserted that the Cambodian Army had killed eight girls after a raid on her shelters.
Ms. Mam’s stories were told in interviews with journalists including Nicholas Kristof, an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times. She attracted high-profile supporters: There were benefits thrown by Susan Sarandon; Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook chief operating officer, is on the advisory board of her foundation. Ms. Mam’s target audience of well-off Westerners, eager to do good, often knows little about the sex trade. It doesn’t require much for them to imagine all women who sell sex as victims in need of rescue.
The Price of a Sex Slave Rescue Fantasy, my op-ed for The New York Times, appeared Friday, May 30, 2014. Margaret Sullivan, the Times’ public editor, called for Kristof to offer a full explanation for his coverage of Somaly Mam.