As early as the beginning of the 17th century, the Vietnamese were being
accused of sending their women to Cambodia to infiltrate the country as part of
a grand conspiracy to take over the country. Today many people in Cambodia still
subscribe to the myth. But as Chea Sotheacheath and David Venables
discovered, the influx of Vietnamese sex workers to the Kingdom has been
inspired by desperation rather than colonization.
Sitting in a dark,
fan-cooled room, the brothel owner politely asked the Post to wait to see "a
new-comer" - a young virgin who the man said "just arrived one day
"Not a problem! Let's have a look. And tell me if you do not like
her so I can get you another one."
He then sent for his latest
"I have already delivered [sold] 20 virgins just between the
time of the new millennium and the Chinese New Year," he casually mentioned as
"I guarantee! She is one-hundred-percent pure virgin. If [she
is] not pure I will not take the money," the man assured, while adding that a
private doctor would be available to check for virginity and HIV status if a
deal was reached.
The owner then quickly moved onto the business side of
"It costs $700 for one week," the man said, adding that the
client could also pay $500 for five days and $300 for one day. But he said it
was unusual to take a girl only for a day.
"Usually everyone takes [the
girl] for one week. They think one week is probably long enough to enjoy the
partner," he said.
A young woman wearing a casual dress and a little
makeup entered the room accompanied by two old ladies
"Sit next to the
clients and have a chat," the owner ordered the 13-year-old girl before he left
She giggled and obeyed, but she did not talk much. She looked
frightened and sad.
She said she had moved from Vietnam three days
before. She said she had never lived away from her family and she missed her
parents and her baby-brother who was born a few days before she had been sent
When asked why she had come to work in the brothel and if she knew
what she was going to do she looked sad and faced the floor, kept quiet for a
while, and answered, "My family is poor. Sometimes we had no food to
She said it was hard to find work in Vietnam. Her parents had
borrowed money in the village to buy food and the amounts of their debts had
increased until the parents could not afford to pay them back.
had a baby which did not have milk, as the mother did not have enough food, she
She said she was brought to Phnom Penh by an elderly woman who had
approached her parents in her home village.
The brothel owner soon became
annoyed with the questions and interrupted saying: "You don't need to be worried
about that [her background]. The parents and the daughter have already decided
on the matter."
The man praised Van (a pseudonym), saying that she was a
good, obedient daughter who had followed her parents and had sacrificed
everything to save her family.
"She is a good daughter. She sacrified to
pay back her parent's good deeds," the man said.
She is under strict
control. He said she is not allowed to go out even to the front of the house,
nor is she allowed to talk to the older prostitutes.
She has only two
dresses, which she has to wash by herself because she had not earned any money
yet. The owner gave her a daily 2,000 riel credit for food which she would be
obliged to pay back when she started earning money.
The interview was
often interrupted. The owner and his partner often returned to ask whether there
was a deal or should he send for other girls.
"What is happening? You Kuy
[deflower her]? Do you want to see another one?" the man repeatedly
Five minutes later, another young woman showed up. She shook her
head and smiled in respect and sat down quietly. Van was allowed to
The new girl spoke Cambodian a little. She said she was from
Choudoc, the Vietnamese provincial town. She had arrived a week
She said she lived under the strict control of the brothel owner
next door. The man who brought her warned that she could not stay longer than
ten minutes if her services were not required.
She said her father was a
drunkard. He had spent all the money her mother earned and eventually he had
pawned the rice field to get money. Then her parents had separated.
sitting there, the two girls told each other about their lives. They both told
each other that they cried when they went to bed and did not see their family as
The second girl was taken away when the owner learned there would
be no sale.
The brothel owner was then asked to bring in an older more
experienced sex worker.
Initially he resisted and kept reccommending the
younger of the girls who he described as "a bit small, and a
The owner warned that a client would have trouble if he
took her to a hotel because police and the owner of the hotel would think that
she was not big enough for sex.
Finally, the owner brought in an older
She was not happy when she was asked about her life. She said she
had the same story as the new-comers.
She had moved from Vietnam two
months ago and said she was sold to a man who she described as rich and fat with
a hand gun.
She said she often saw the man talking to a bodyguard who
came to see him during her one week with him in the Phnom Penh hotel when she
When asked when they are going back to Vietnam all the
girls said they did not know, it depended on when they could pay back their
family's debts to the owner.
During the Post's visit to the brothel some
other Western and Japanese customers visited.
The owner said most of the
girls in his brothel had been deflowered by foreigners who made contact through
taxi drivers at the airport.