We live in a world where we have to be extremely careful with how we consume the truths we are presented. Blindly following one news channel, one pundit, or any one source of information can dangerously shape your perception of reality. Simply compare news stations reporting the same story, and you can see the underlying biases. We have to be careful how we process information which I was reminded of recently while coding for WomanStats.
I was coding an article reporting on the relatively common practice of selling girls’ virginity to rich and powerful men in Cambodia; this article also referenced the recent controversies surrounding Somaly Mam, an internationally recognized Cambodian activist for trafficking victims.[i] Newsweek recently released a story that pointed out many inconsistencies in her personal story and the stories of the some of the girls she claims to have helped. Although Somaly Mam denies these allegations, she has resigned from the Somaly Mam Foundation which is “dedicated to eradicating the trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and girls in Southeast Asia, and empowering survivors as part of the solution.”[ii]
I was familiar with Somaly Mam’s story from a film by the Half the Sky Movement, but had not heard of the developing controversy.[iii] At first, I was saddened and angered by these accusations, because her alleged lies could hurt the cause for trafficked women that she and others have done so much to help. I think I was most upset by the falsehoods told in an effort to combat a global problem that really needs no embellishing when you look at the sheer number of people affected by sex trafficking around the world.
Yes, it is unfortunate that her story has taken this turn. As Nicholas Kristof writes regarding the controversy, “Truth is paramount.”[iv] However, one blog post points out that sensationalizing the story for fundraising is not a new dilemma for aid groups, and the general public is complicit by gravitating towards these kinds of heart-wrenching stories for the purpose of fundraising and media consumption [v] We cannot let the controversy obscure the real problems- in this case, human trafficking and the trafficking of women. I could not agree with Kristof more as he explains, “…I also hope that people will be as diligent in covering the scandal that is human trafficking as the (likely) scandal of false or embellished backstories.”[vi]
We must be diligent in our search for the truth and good data helps that search. One of the things I admire most about WomanStats is that it compiles all kinds of qualitative and quantitative data from a plethora of sources to paint a picture that reflects the truth about women’s security. The continuous uploading of information related to over 360 variables of women’s security helps insure that the database is both comprehensive and extremely relevant to the truth on the ground. These truths are vitally important to helping combat issues such as trafficking, violence against women, unfair legal practices, and women’s insecurity globally.[vii]
[i] Haworth, Abigail. “Virginity for sale: inside Cambodia’s shocking trade.” The Guardian. July 5, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jul/06/virginity-for-sale-cambodia-sex-trade.
[ii] Marks, Simon. “Somaly Mam: The Holy Saint (and Sinner) of Sex Trafficking.” Newsweek. May 21, 2014. http://www.newsweek.com/2014/05/30/somaly-mam-holy-saint-and-sinner-sex-trafficking-251642.html.
[iv] Kristof, Nicholas. “When Sources May Have Lied.” New York Times. June 7, 2014. http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/07/when-sources-may-have-lied/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0.
[v] Brandt, Cindy. “Our Complicity in the Somaly Mam Scandal.” Huffington Post. July 9, 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cindy-brandt/our-complicity-in-the-somaly-mam-sensationalism_b_5569463.html.
[vi] Kristof, Nicholas. “When Sources May Have Lied.” New York Times. June 7, 2014. http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/07/when-sources-may-have-lied/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0.