For our second installment of Big Mother Is Watching You, a guide to prominent anti-sex worker activists and officials, we’d like to remind you of a few salient facts about Hillary Clinton and her relationship to Somaly Mam, after the formal launch of Clinton’s second presidential bid on Sunday.
While U.S. Secretary of State (2009-2013), Hillary Clinton was responsible for the continuation, from the Bush Administration, of trafficking-related foreign policy harmful to sex workers in the Global South. Under her tenure, the U.S. Department of State continued enforcing the Anti-Prostitution Loyalty Oath, a policy that led to the defunding of a number of very effective anti-HIV/AIDS organizations operating in the Global South who were were unwilling to condemn the sex workers receiving their services. The U.S. government defended that policy to the U.S. Supreme Court, who ruled 6-2 against them in 2013 on free speech grounds (Justice Elena Kagan recused). Unfortunately, that ruling only applies to organizations based in the United States, though it was recently reinterpreted to also apply to organizations based in the U.S. but working in affiliates or offices abroad.
During Clinton’s administration, the Trafficking In Persons Office, a division of the U.S. Department of State, also continued to reward Cambodia with an improved TIP Report ranking for its 2008 criminalization of prostitution, a Bush administration move that led to the imprisonment of sex workers in Orwellian “rehabilitation centers” and other horrors, including beatings, extortion, and rape.
Post-criminalization in Cambodia, “raid-and-rescue” became the norm, and those conducting these brothel raids weren’t always the government. Seven prominent Western Christian aid organizations (Agape International Missions, Association for the Recovery of Children, Exodus Cry, Force Film Foundation, Hope for Justice, Love 146 and Shared Hope International), received no government funding yet performed rescues or otherwise collaborated with Cambodian law enforcement to detain sex workers. Some of these outfits would even solicit civilians to perform armed “rescues,” in effect becoming paramilitary organizations. These paramilitary operations by right-wing conservative Christian groups continued through Clinton’s tenure and into Kerry’s, supported by their positive reinforcement of the Cambodian government’s criminalization of sex work and receiving no censure from either administration. Famously, Nicholas Kristof participated in a brothel raid—which he live-tweeted—courtesy of Somaly Mam in 2011.
Hillary Clinton poses for a photo op here with Long Pros, a girl whom Somaly Mam coached to tell violent, trumped up tales of sexual exploitation to potential donors and journalists in the West, including a particularly lurid tale about her eye being gouged out by a brothel owner. This account appears to have been fabricated by Mam out of the surgical correction of a non-malignant tumor in Pros’ eye, as detailed in an article in the Cambodia Daily in October 2012. Pros appeared extensively in Nicholas Kristof’s “Half the Sky” documentary, which was released in October 2012.
Mam capitalized on the 2008 criminalization of prostitution in Cambodia, creating a “rehabilitation center” for purported trafficking survivors through her organization AFESIP (Agir Pour les Femmes en Situation Precaire) which Clinton toured and helped raise millions of dollars in funds for. Srey Mao, a Cambodian sex worker who was confined with her friends at AFESIP’s “rehabilitation” center after a brothel raid, came forward to say that they were held against their will in the center and instructed by Mam to lie to foreign visitors and say that they were victims of trafficking being rescued. A woman named Meas Ratha who appeared in a different documentary featuring Mam also came forward admitting that Mam coached her to lie and tell doctored trafficking horror stories. Clinton also served on the Global Advisory Board of the Somaly Mam Foundation, which funded ten rescue industry organizations in four countries and lobbied for anti-trafficking legislation globally, before its shutdown in October 2014. A good percentage of the funds the Global Advisory Board raised for the Foundation and AFESIP went to 50 percent salary increases for Mam and the Foundation’s CEO and financial officer.
Hillary Clinton is not responsible for the terrible policies of the Bush Administration, but she is responsible for following in lock-step with those policies during her tenure as Secretary of State under the Obama Administration.