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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Murders of sex workers shock Siem Reap

Murders of sex workers shock Siem Reap

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OU NAVI's ten-month career as a Siem Reap sex worker ended on June 20 when the electrical

tape used to gag her screams for help caused her to die of suffocation.

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Ou Navi, a Siem Reap sex worker murdered on June 20

The pair of well-dressed Khmer men who had accompanied Navi and a fellow-sex worker

to a Siem Reap guest house had ended their tryst with a robbery attempt that made

Navi the first of three sex workers reported to have been murdered in Siem Reap in

the last six weeks.

The series of murders - all unsolved - is worrying NGOs in Siem Reap that provide

services to the town's sex worker population.

"We're deeply concerned about the increase in violence against sex workers in

Siem Reap," said Dymphna Kenny, Coordinator of Medicins Sans Frontiers' (MSF)

STD/HIV/AIDS Project in Siem Reap.

"Sex workers are always very vulnerable [to violence] ... but Navi's death was

particularly cruel," she said.

The concerns of MSF personnel deepened when it was revealed that another sex worker

had been discovered dead in a guest house room on July 19, the night before Navi's

murder.

"One day before [Navi's death], police checking a guest house for criminals

found the body of another sex worker," said MSF social worker Liem Leang.

"The cause of death was uncertain, but other sex workers say that she'd been

murdered."

A third sex worker, known only by her first name, "Lida" , was found strangled

to death on the road leading to the Siem Reap town reservoir on July 12. The 32-year-old

Lida had likewise been robbed of her cash and jewelry.

The three murders have left many of Siem Reap's "freelance" sex workers

anxious about the potential threat to their safety.

Eying potential clients at a popular Siem Reap bar frequented by tourists and expats,

a self-described "taxi girl" who requested anonymity expressed fear at

the implications of the three murders.

"I know that what happened to those three [murdered] girls could also happen

to me," the woman said. "I'm wearing less jewelry than I usually do so

that I don't attract the attention of robbers."

Ou Eim, Chief of Penal Police for Siem Reap, told the Post that the police were aware

only of the deaths of Navi and Lida. However, Eim said he too was shocked by the

cruelty of the killings.

"A couple years ago it wasn't uncommon for [sex workers] to be drugged by clients

and then robbed," Eim said. "But these violent murders are something we

haven't seen before in Siem Reap."

According to Eim, the suspects in Navi's murder were "Phnom Penh gangsters"

who subsequently fled Siem Reap. Suspects in Lida's murder are Siem Reap residents

who are believed by the police to have escaped to either Battambang or Banteay Meanchay.

Navi's mother, Doeum Sophany, criticized the police for a lack of action on her daughters

case.

"I have sent a letter to [human rights NGO] Licadho asking for their assistance

in Navi's case," Sophany said. "Losing Navi was like losing both of my

arms."

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