After a tragedy occurs, we often hear stories of survival. These stories give us hope, and allow us to emphasize with the victims who were brave enough to share their experiences. In these times of hardship, no one is going to question a victim’s story. Haven’t they been through enough already?
Perhaps not. Sometimes there are lies mixed in among these accounts from survivors, which is why properly vetting a candidate is essential.
When the Truth Comes Out
Consider the case of Somaly Mam, a Cambodian woman who claimed she was a victim of sex trafficking during her childhood. According to Mam’s story, she was sold into slavery around age 10 and was then forced to marry a soldier at age 14. Mam went as far as creating a foundation named after her, which raised money and awareness for victims. The organization and Mam herself gained the attention of big name celebrities such as Oprah WInfrey and Susan Sarandon. Many articles and columns have been written, praising Mam for all she had done. However, when a Newsweek journalist did some digging on Mam’s past, it soon came to light that Mam had fabricated her tale (Mullany, “Activist Resigns Amid Charges of Fabrication”).
And let’s not forget about Tania Head, whose horrific account of the September, 11 attacks placed her as president of the Survivors’ Network. Head told reporters she had been in the south tower, witnessing gruesome deaths and nearly losing her own arm before being rescued by the heroic Welles Crowther. She also claimed to have lost her husband, Dave in the attacks. At the time of her debut, the nation was still healing, and no one wanted to interrogate a woman who had gone through so much. However, many survivors began to notices several holes in her story. Head quickly dismissed them and did her best to cover her tracks. It wasn’t until The New York Times began to do a little background checking on her for a piece that the truth came out. Tania Head wasn’t even in the country at the time of the attacks, and had never been married to Dave. In fact, her real name wasn’t even Tania Head (NPR Staff, “The Amazing, Untrue Story Of A Sept. 11 Survivor”).
A Lesson Learned
Even though these women lied about their past, many still struggle with letting them go. Mam raised over $2 million in donations for victims of sex trafficking in 2012, and many Sept. 11 survivors credit Head with helping them heal. But despite the good they’ve done, the fact that they lied remains. The true victims are overshadowed by people like Mam and Head, and the actions of these two leave others to question the stories of the real survivors. When this happens, the organizations and people they were affiliated with lose their credibility. After all, a simple background check was all it took to discover the truth. These organizations handle millions of dollars and deal with sensitive subjects, yet they couldn’t have bothered to double check a few details?
Situations like these emphasize the importance of properly vetting a candidate before they are able to hold a position of power. This rings true for everyone, not just supposed victims. The practice of vetting a candidate is most often used in politics to ensure that they haven’t embellished too much about their past. Companies who are in the process of hiring executives need to examine the backgrounds of their candidates, which was explained in our article on Executive Background Checks.
When it comes to situations like the ones Mam and Head were involved in, it is always best to err on the side of caution and make sure their stories check out. Doing so can prevent legal troubles, liability issues, and even heartbreak.