Marianelli Agbulos: Turn the other cheek for Somaly Mam

It was about two months ago that Newsweek shared their investigative piece on discrepancies found in Somaly Mam’s life story.  Like many others, I was shocked and unsure how to handle this sudden news.  Here was an anti-human trafficking activist I admired, going from “hero” to “villain.”  

Since the downfall of Somaly’s good graces, most media outlets have regretted any previous involvement with her.  Although expected, this typical response of shunning someone after a mistake has been made needs to be re-evaluated.  We are taught to “forgive and let go;” but in such cases of alleged dishonesty, associating with Somaly has now become unfavorable.  

The media traditionally has had an insatiable appetite for people’s mistakes or tragedies; and in the few instances when the media hasn’t focused on those negative aspects, it has emphasized positive anecdotes, like heroic narratives and inspirational stories.  Somaly Mam experienced both these cases: she was first highlighted for the good things she had done, and then accused of fabricating her story and others’.  In fact, Newsweek went from honoring Somaly as one of the “Women Who Shake The World,” to pitching her alleged fraudulence just 3-years later.  I can’t help but wonder: Why were the facts not verified before honoring Somaly?  Is Somaly’s rise and decline in the media nothing more than “viewer fodder” to attract people to news sites?  

In light of the Internet tirade against Somaly, I think people should leave Somaly alone and redirect their energy to the real issue: human trafficking.  Interestingly, Somaly’s efforts in this area have rarely been mentioned in the recent articles about her.  Yet, the fact that her foundation has saved a number of Cambodian girls from trafficking throughout the years is a part of her story that can’t be denied.  

Somaly Mam’s story teaches us all to pay attention to our news sources, as well as to research and fact check in this era of reliance on technology.  We are each accountable for what we learn, and we should never stop educating ourselves. More importantly, Somaly’s story reminds us that we are all human, just like SomalyBeing human means that we will make mistakes, but have the power to learn and grow from our mistakes.  Forgiveness happens with self-acceptance and not letting the past dictate someone’s future.  I admire Somaly’s resilience and persistence in the face of adversity, and hope that she continues to inspire you. 

Image Source: Michael Angelo