Somaly Mam Foundation quietly closes

by Lisa Anderson | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 21 October 2014 23:18 GMT

Cambodian activist Somaly Mam (R) accepts a "Woman of the Year" award with a child she rescued from sexual slavery, during the 2006 Glamour Magazine "Women of the Year" Honors award show in New York City October 30, 2006. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

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Cambodian activist resigned in May over allegations of discrepencies in the tragic autobiography she used to raise millions of dollars in global funding

By Lisa Anderson

NEW YORK, Oct 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Somaly Mam Foundation, one of the world's best-known organisations against sex trafficking, has quietly closed five months after its namesake founder resigned under allegations of discrepencies in the tragic autobiography she used to raise millions of dollars in global funding.

In a statement recently posted on its website and signed by the former board of directors, the organisation said, "We believe strongly in an organization driven by transparency, integrity and service. We've reflected on these values and our purpose to identify the best path forward to continue our critical work.

"There are many outstanding organizations that share these values while dedicated to the eradication of trafficking and slavery. We decided that going forward, the right opportunity for our staff and our supporters would be to support those many great organizations. As of September 30, we officially ceased all operations, ended all grant funding, and permanently closed our doors."

The Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF), which had offices in New York but operated primarily in Cambodia, did not respond to a request for further comment.

Somaly Mam, the charismatic Cambodian founder of the seven-year-old foundation, resigned in May after an extensive two-month outside investigation commissioned by her organisation into assertions that her heartbreaking autobiography,including years as a child sex slave, was in question.

The resignation also came just days after a May 21 Newsweek cover story raising many of the same questions and entitled "Somaly Mam: The Saint (and Sinner) of Sex Trafficking."

Although silent at the time of her resignation, Somaly Mam refuted the charges of fraud against her in a Marie Claire article in September.

As of Oct. 1, Somaly Mam has taken over management of AFESIP, which stands for Agir Pour Les Femmes en Situation Precaire or Helping Women in Danger, the Cambodian NGO she founded in 1996 to fight sex trafficking, Rigmor Schneider, former operations director of SMF, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.

Schneider, who worked at SMF for three years, also said she is volunteering her services to help Mam create a new foundation.

Mam currently is trying to raise money to support some 150 women and girls in three AFESIP centers for trafficking victims, now cut off from the funding formerly provided primarily by SMF, said Schneider.

Asked through her U.S. press representative Scott Gorenstein for Mam's reaction to the closure of the Somaly Mam Foundation, Gorenstein provided this statement by Mam to the Thomson Reuters Foundation: "I forgive the board for what they did to me personally but I am still concerned about the victims in the centers. Cutting off funding without notice and leaving so many lives without support was quite upsetting."

(Reporting by Lisa Anderson, Editing by Maria Caspani)

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