A survey has reported that prostitutes in the capital are suffering major human rights
violations at the hands of the police. These include arbitrary and violent arrest,
unlawful detention, rape, beatings with sticks or guns, and extortion.
The Cambodian Prostitutes' Union and the Cambodian Women's Development Association
(CWDA) were halfway through interviewing 100 of the estimated 300 sex workers in
the Tuol Kork area when, "due to the urgency of the situation", they decided
to release their survey results immediately.
More than 90 percent of the sex workers had noticed a recent increase in human rights
violations by the police, according to the Survey on Police Human Rights Violations
of Sex Workers in Tuol Kork.
"It is caused by weak law enforcement," said CWDA director Kien Serey Phal.
"There's no action against the people who create the violence. No policeman
has been charged."
The reported increase in human rights violations coincides with a crackdown on prostitution
in Phnom Penh. While owning or operating a brothel is illegal in Cambodia, working
as a prostitute is not. Yet it is the women selling sex who have apparently been
targeted during the current police operation.
"It is not the brothel owners or clients who are arrested, but it is the sex
workers who are systematically blamed, targeted and incarcerated," the report
Abuses included a sex worker who said she had been questioned with a gun pressed
to her head. Others reported being locked in a room, refused food, and forced to
do domestic chores such as cleaning floors and toilets.
Seventy-two percent of respondents said their rights had been violated by police;
the remainder had witnessed human rights violations by the police against prostitutes.
The report said there was a "desperate and urgent need" to recognize sex
"There are consistent reports that sex workers are required to give a percentage
of their weekly earnings to a policeman to deter being arrested and harassed,"
it reported. "The majority of respondents stated that the police ask for between
US $10-20 from sex workers [so as] not to be arrested."
Tuol Kork's police inspector Kim Huon denied the allegations.
"The problem is mainly that they stand in the street and cause a loss of social
order and they affect the beautification of Phnom Penh," he said. "We do
not arrest them - we only take them for education.
"And I vehemently ban [my officers] from taking money from the prostitutes or
the brothel. I only fine them for causing social disorder," he continued. "The
claims are not true - I believe that they would make a complaint to me if it happened."
However the report found that three-quarters did not report the police violations,
with many saying they were too afraid to go to the authorities. One prostitute told
researchers: "Police hate sex workers; I'm afraid if I go to the police, [they]
will do the same thing to me because I am a sex worker."
The survey also revealed ab-uses by some clients and brothel owners. While most interviewees
worked independently, those based in brothels reported frequent abuse by owners.
These included withholding pay, being beaten, forced to work long hours, not being
allowed to leave the brothel, and one instance of electric shock torture.
The majority of interviewees were in their twenties. Eighty-four percent were Cambodian
wo-men, mostly from Prey Veng or Kampong Cham, while the remainder were Vietnamese.
Almost one quarter had been sold into prostitution.