Cambodian report damns law for confusing trafficking with sex work

Photo Tim Matsui

Twelve Cambodian organisations have conducted a study of the effects of the US-inspired (or US-imposed) 2008 law against sexual exploitation. There have been many stories showing the damage of a policy that promotes raids and round-ups of people categorically labelled victims. The law has been a disaster for sex workers in Cambodia, as articles on unwanted rescues in brothels and among ladyboys illustrate – and there are many others available. See Roger Tatoud on the counter-productivity of so-called rehabilitation efforts. The report recommends anti-trafficiking initiatives led by sex workers.

Photo Tim Matsui

The research interviewed more than a thousand sex workers, of whom ‘less than 1% said they had been sold into prostitution and more than 90% said sex work was their best available job option.’

The Phnom Penh Post

Study slams trafficking law 

23 July 2009, Christopher Shay and Mom Kunthear

THE 2008 Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation violates international guidelines, encourages gender discrimination and increases the danger of sex work, according to a study released last week by the Cambodian Alliance for Combating HIV/AIDS (CACHA) along with 11 local, international and governmental organisations.

UN guidelines call for officials to ensure that traffickers, and not sex workers, are at “the focus of anti-trafficking strategies“, the report states.

But by regarding all sex workers as victims, the 2008 anti-trafficking law conflates women who have been trafficked with women who consent to sex work, thereby diverting attention away from traffickers, according to the report.

To produce the report, titled “Policies Environment Regarding Universal Access and the Right to Work of Entertainment Workers in Cambodia”, researchers collected data from 1,116 female sex workers.

Less than 1 percent of those polled said they were sold into prostitution, and more than 90 percent said sex work was their best available job option.

After the anti-trafficking law was passed in January 2008, police cracked down on brothels, prompting many sex workers to move to karaoke bars, massage parlours and beer gardens.

Tia Phalla, deputy director of the National Aids Authority, which helped produce the report, said Wednesday that he was worried that HIV/AIDS awareness had declined as a result of the shift away from brothels.

We are having difficulties educating them,” he said. “When we go into a restaurant or beer garden and tell them why we have come, they say they are not sex workers.”

The report also highlights a recent decline in brothel-based education. Out of fear of police raids, “brothel owners have become less willing to allow HIV services in their establishments“, the report states. “Closure of brothels leads more entertainment workers to work in more dangerous conditions.”

The report outlines a number of ways to improve the 2008 law. These include providing further clarification on the definition of “soliciting” so that people are not arrested for carrying condoms. Above all, the report recommends that judges and prosecutors recognise the “right to enter freely into commercial relationships connected to [sex] work“.

“Some articles in the law should be amended so that sex workers have the right to do their business and can receive healthcare services,” Ly Cheng Huy, chairman of the CACHA steering community, said.

Engaging sex workers in a meaningful way – something the report argues did not happen before the 2008 law was adopted – would yield a more effective approach to ending trafficking, the report states. “[An] entertainment worker led and controlled programme can play a much more effective role in combating trafficking … than law enforcement approaches,” the report says, citing as an example a regulatory body in Kolkata, India, set up by sex workers that saw significant declines in the number of underage sex workers.

This approach would “help to promote the dignity, welfare and health of those human beings who are also entertainment workers”, the report says

4 thoughts on “Cambodian report damns law for confusing trafficking with sex work

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  2. Kris

    That 1% admits that they are forced is not strange. From the point of view of a coerced prostitute the researchers could be the helpers of the pimps who test if they are loyal. If the women say to the researchers that they are forced they could face serious reprisals (at least that’s what the women believe).

    Read Sarah Forsyth’s ‘Slave Girl’ and you will understand.

    I’m reading another book: “Een haar per dag – dertig maanden in de prostitutie” written by Jody Peters. She was forced to work in the Netherlands in prostitution during the eighties, in clubs and behind windows. In the book she explains that she always tells clients that she works in prostitution to save a lot of money and then after a couple of years she could live off the interest. According to her that’s what nearly all girls tell to clients. And according to her nearly all girls are pimped in the window area where she worked.

    These reports are worthless. It is a lot more complicated than that. Especially when the women are so attached to their pimps. After a rescue they will return to them. Call it love or fear. Coerced/forced prostitution is indeed difficult to eradicate. Perhaps we should treat it like any other crime. You must try as a government to stop it, but still be so realistic that it will never disappear. We shouldn’t give up the fight and give in to the sex traffickers by just calling them legitimate business people.

    Sorry for my bombardment again, I’m still struggling with my sex addiction.

  3. Marc


    your arguments are all right in many single cases.

    But here we would like to collect and document evidence in broader numbers in relation to the huge numbers of sex workers and paysex consumers in every country.

    One argument can flip, like an emotion or situation can dramatically change within minutes or years, wether you are dependant or not, with money or not, with paper or not, healty or not, with that person or not… Humans can always choose between serveral options.

    When you acknowledge free choice for some-to-many sex workers, you can do good to them more and help the endangered ones at most.

    Don’t you see that the stigmatization and hence criminalisation has a major attribution to the missery of women, transexuals and men in sex biz? That entrapment is fostered by douple standards and taboo?

    Howe comes that you generalize some feelings or experiences about sexuality and gender to all these many peoples in the sex industry?


  4. Pingback: Cambodia | Anti-Trafficking Law| Rescue | Sex Workers | Border … - KuASha Organization

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