If you saw Long Pross recounting her horrific experiences in a documentary made about the humanitarian work being done by Somaly Mam, might you feel inclined to make a donation to her Somaly Mam Foundation – committed as it is to stamping out sex slavery in Cambodia?
In 1998 a popular weekly French TV show - Envoye Special - screened a documentary about Somaly Mam, relatively unknown at the time, and the work she was doing rescuing girls and women from the sex trade.
In the opening scene Meas Ratha, a 14 year old Cambodian girl, recounts her experiences in a brothel. Somaly sits at her side as Meas Ratha tells of how she had been promised a job as a waitress in Phnom Penh, but wound up a captive in a brothel.
According to Somaly her organization, then known as AFESIP, coordinated a high profile police raid on a brothel in Phnom Penh in 2004. 83 women and girls were rescued and placed in the care of AFESIP. Ms Mam later told the UN panel that Cambodian police had entered AFESIP premises, taken 8 of the girls and murdered them. She was forced eventually to acknowledge that this story was a fabrication - that Cambodian police had neither kidnapped nor killed any girls at all.
|Meas Ratha in 2013|
And 16 years after the Somaly Mam documentary was televised, Meas Ratha—now 32 years old and married—revealed in 2013 that the story she told about her life was fabricated and scripted for her by Somaly to help raise money for the work she was doing.
Does the conflation of fact and fiction here concern you? If, when you saw the photo of Long Pross and believed that she had been stabbed in the eye you felt inclined to make a contribution to the Somaly Mam Foundation, do you still feel so inclined?
At the very least potential donors and sponsors (and all-too-gullible celebrities) should apply healthy skepticism before they fall for Somaly’s sales marketing pitch; before they fall for the marketing pitch of any NGO in the business of saving, rescuing, women and children in third world countries.
The sadder and the more compelling the story told (Long Pross and Meas Ratha’s, for instance), the cuter the kids smiling into the camera and asking for your help, the more inclined you will be to contribute to the flow of money into the NGO’s coffers.