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Beaten sex workers fear court

Beaten sex workers fear court

Sex workers wait for clients near Wat Phnom in downtown Phnom Penh in March 2009.

More than 100 sex workers have filed complaints with the Cambodian Prostitute Union alleging police brutality, but only one has dared file a complaint to police, unionists said yesterday.

The Cambodian Prostitute Union’s Chan Lina said the reason sex workers do not feel they can file a complaint outlining their physical and sexual assault by judicial and police officers is because they fear facing the court to testify.

“They don’t even believe in the court system,” Chan Lina said. “It is difficult for us to seek intervention to help these victims of violence because many of them dare not file a complaint against a local police officer.

“The women fear losing their jobs, because police who commit the offences are the ones who control the area,” she said, adding that the union only ever received verbal complaints.

Chan Lina said there was a culture of impunity among judicial and police officers charged with implementing the anti-human trafficking law.

The anti-human trafficking law targets sex workers for solicitation, making street-based sex work a dangerous employment for women who will often tolerate brutality to avoid being arrested.

The only sex worker to have filed a criminal complaint against law enforcement officers alleged two police officers who patrolled the area where she worked had beaten and attempted to rape her.

The 33-year-old sex worker from Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district told the Post that in November she was waiting for a client on street 270 when two police officers on motorbikes chased down five women also working on the street and beat them.

The worker said she witnessed the women take money out of their purses to bribe the police officers, who then turned to arrest her.

“One of the police officers asked me for money and [attempted to force] me to have sex with him, but I escaped to hide in a house nearby,” she said yesterday. “But he took me out and slapped me and beat me with his walkie-talkie.”

Chan Sahut, deputy police chief of Russey Keo district, said he had not yet received the information about the woman’s complaint.

“Victims should file complaints with our office to get intervention,” Chan Sahut said. “If we find police officers commit crimes like this, we will take legal measures against the bad police officers.”

Director of legislation at the Ministry of Interior, Neak Yutha, said he frequently heard of sex workers accusing police of brutality and extortion.

“The law on anti-human trafficking in our country does not order police to use violence or beat sex workers,” he said. “Any time this happens, it is an individual issue.”