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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - NGO to drop Somaly Mam’s name

NGO to drop Somaly Mam’s name

The Somaly Mam Foundation has pledged to change its name following the resignation of its founder and namesake amid allegations that she fabricated details about her own back story and those of supposed sexual-assault victims.

Somaly Mam
Somaly Mam speaks at an event hosted by her foundation at New York City’s Gotham Hall last year. Her name is to be dropped from the Somaly Mam Foundation. AFP

In a statement released Friday, Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF) executive director Gina Reiss-Wilchins says the organisation has “been working tirelessly to chart the best path for … moving forward”.

SMF will be “rebranding, renaming, and re-launching our organisation,” Reiss-Wilchins says.

The resignation of Mam, Cambodia’s most famous anti-sex-trafficking activist, from SMF last month came just days after Newsweek published an article alleging that key parts of her story had been fabricated.

Among the claims, Mam’s stories of orphanhood and teenage sexual slavery were called into question.

In March, the foundation hired US-based law firm Goodwin Proctor to conduct an independent, third-party investigation into the claims against Mam and alleged trafficking victim Long Pros, whom the organisation had featured in media campaigns to attract support and funding.

Mam’s organisation said that Pros had been sold into a brothel, where she had endured abuse and torture. The now-discredited story was first brought to public attention by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and through Mam’s appearance on Oprah. After the Goodwin Proctor findings, the organisation permanently cut all ties with Pros.

Mam is also alleged to have fabricated and scripted the testimony of another woman, Meas Ratha, for a French documentary in 1998.

In 2012, Mam backtracked on a statement she made earlier that year to the UN General Assembly, where she claimed that Cambodian soldiers killed eight girls in a raid on one of her shelters in 2004.

In Friday’s statement, Reiss-Wilchins says the organisation has received “additional inquiries from media outlets including the New York Times regarding Somaly Mam’s resignation”.

“While we do not know the exact scope of these new allegations, some may involve questions about Somaly’s life and the practices of Cambodian NGOs,” she adds.

The statement points out that SMF is a registered nonprofit organisation and is fully audited every year, adding that the 2013 audit will be made publicly available before November 15.

“There is critical work to be done, and our commitment to our work and to the women and girls we serve has and will not waver,” the statement says.

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