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Archive for May 27th, 2014

A large number of organizations…[use] children to raise funds…the truth is distorted or the stories invented to attract more compassion and money.  The impact on the lives of these children is terrible:  If they come from an abusive situation, such a process re-traumatizes them and in any case it stigmatizes them forever.  –  Sébastien Marot

It’s starting.  “Sex trafficking” hysteria has run its course, and we’re now beginning to see the signs of its inevitable implosion.  Two and a half years ago in “Crystal Ball” I wrote,

…If things run according to form, we can predict that over the next three years skepticism about “trafficking” (especially in regard to its conflation with sex work) will slowly increase, and by about 2015 it will be possible for a major media outlet to publish articles critical of both the statistics and the very concept.  By 2017 public funding for anti-sex worker hate groups will begin to dry up, and by 2019 or 2020 we should expect it to virtually disappear from public discourse except for a wave of books and documentaries by “experts” who couldn’t be bothered to speak out against it while it was going on but are happy to make a quick buck from it after it’s safely over…

In the summer after that was published several UN agencies came out in support of decriminalization, and a number of human rights organizations followed; I also began to chronicle the increasing absurdity of “trafficking” claims.  Then last year, articles which were openly skeptical of the myth began to appear here and there, and ever-larger numbers of academics and journalists began to attack the fake statistics and the Swedish model so beloved of “trafficking” fetishists.  This past January the “gypsy whores” myth began to fall apart, and soon articles challenging the official narrative (including some by sex workers) began to proliferate.

Newsweek 5-30-14But perhaps the biggest blow yet came last Wednesday:  Simon Marks, who has been investigating rescue industry icon Somaly Mam for several years, published a full-length expose in the current issue of Newsweek.  Most of the story is not new; I’ve reported on Marks’ findings (and those of others) since the autumn of 2011, but as I explained in “Crumbling House”, neither the mainstream American press nor any of Mam’s many celebrity enablers seemed interested.  The Newsweek story, however, seems to have changed that; many US journalists who ignored or overlooked Mam’s lies while they were only being reported in blogs and foreign newspapers have now awakened to her incredible career of deceit.  And while regular readers already know about the fake “trafficking victims” and the daughter who was supposedly kidnapped and gang-raped by traffickers in retaliation for Mam’s activism (but actually just ran away with her boyfriend), the new article does contain one bombshell.  In November I reported that Mam’s ex-husband had cast doubt on her own claims of being “trafficked”, saying, “She was a prostitute.  Was she abused?  Yes.  Was she trafficked?  I doubt it.  No one has proof.”  But Marks now has much more:

…In her autobiography, Mam tells how “Grandfather” turned her at a very young age into his domestic slave.  He would gamble and drink, and when he came home, he sometimes beat her until she bled.  He eventually sold her as a virgin to a Chinese merchant and then forced her to marry a violent soldier when she was just 14.  She was later sold to a brothel in Phnom Penh, where she [claims she was] tortured with electrodes hooked up to a car battery…

Interviews with Mam’s childhood acquaintances, teachers and local officials in the village where she grew up contradict important, lurid details in her autobiography.  Many of the villagers in Thloc Chhroy say they never met or even saw Mam’s cruel “Grandfather,” the rich Chinese merchant who allegedly raped her or the violent soldier she says she was forced to marry.  Orn Hok, a former commune chief, remembers well the day Mam arrived in the village, noting, “Somaly came here with her parents.  She is a daughter of Mam Khon and Pen Navy.”  Pen Chhun Heng, now in her 70s, says she is a cousin of Mam’s mother and rejects the notion that Mam was adopted or that she was raised (or kept) by “Grandfather.”  Sam Nareth, a childhood friend of Mam’s, says Mam first attended school in the village in 1981 and remained there until she got her high school diploma.  “She finished secondary school in 1987, and Somaly and I went to sit the teachers exam in Kompong Cham together.”  Thou Soy, who was the director of Khchao High School in Thloc Chhroy, distinctly remembers Mam attending classes between 1981 and 1987, as does the current commune chief, Thorng Ruon, and his two predecessors.  Mam was well-known and popular in their small village, a happy, pretty girl with pigtails.

Not even Mam can keep the story straight.  In February 2012, while speaking at the White House, she said she was sold into slavery at age 9 or 10 and spent a decade inside a brothel.  On The Tyra Banks Show, she said it was four or five years in the brothel.  Her book says she was trafficked when she was “about 16 years old”…

There’s also additional information about the horrible way she treats her employees, but even more important are passages like this:

…Experts in sex trafficking say that…the scale and dynamics of the situation are often misunderstood, in part because of lurid, sensationalistic stories such as those told by Mam and her “girls”…In an interview for Euronews in 2012, Mam said girls as young as 3 are being held in Cambodian brothels.  Experts in the field say that is almost unheard-of.  Patrick Stayton, who formerly ran the…International Justice Mission (IJM) in Cambodia, says, “They may have had a supply of younger girls between the age of 14 and 17…We’ve never seen prepubescent girls, or very, very rarely”…Thomas Steinfatt, a professor of statistics at the University of Miami, has done several reports on sex trafficking for the U.N…he estimated there were no more than 1,058 victims of trafficking in Cambodia and has said the situation has improved markedly since then.  The number of children, both those observed as sex workers and those mentioned by management or…sex workers…was 127…

Kristof says OKThe comments, including many from other rescue industry folks who’ve known about this for years but were afraid to speak up against Somaly the rock star, are also very interesting; some are from a woman who calls herself “Angel” but appears to be either Somaly herself or a fanatically-loyal follower, dismissing all the evidence as lies against her fallen hero.  Nicholas Kristof, who has borrowed much of his anti-whore propaganda from Mam, has not yet made a statement; I’ll be surprised if he does, because like all rats he will desert a sinking ship.  But while Kristof and others like him will move on to new crusades as this one goes under, the days of the victim pimps who directly profit from “sex trafficking” hysteria are numbered.  Somaly Mam is only the first of the big names to crash; look for many new scandals and exposes to follow in the next two years.  But even after they’re all gone, it will take the better part of a generation to clean up the havoc they’ve wrought and to try to salvage the lives they’ve destroyed for their own profit, political advantage and self-aggrandizement.

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