Gay male prostitutes have solicited on Pursat Bridge for a decade, but
a police crackdown has forced them into more dangerous parts of town
Photo by: Rick Valenzuela
Srey Lim (foreground), a hairdresser by day and a crossdressing male prostitute at night, hangs out at one of her former streetwalking spots in Pursat town last week.
THE ladyboys of Pursat - gay male prostitutes dressed as women - have been banned from soliciting on the notorious Pursat Bridge, their haunt for at least a decade, but provincial police enforcing the ban say they have the best interests of the prostitutes in mind.
"Selling sex is illegal in Cambodia. We are not allowing these prostitutes to conduct business on the bridge anymore because it has a negative impact on residents who live close by," said Lok Sary, chief of the Pursat provincial police force.
"We also want to take care of the ladyboys' health and protect them from HIV/Aids."
Since the police crackdown, the ladyboys have moved their business to the shady gardens surrounding Pursat Lake, particularly a stretch between Pursat Bridge and Speanthmor Garden.
But the move has been a difficult one for the more than 50 ladyboys who work in Pursat, according to Srey Lin, 25, who has been a prostitute in the town for two years.
"If we are standing on the Pursat Bridge, it is much safer for us. The police are always nearby, but here we face a lot of problems," she told the Post.
We have to do
this job secretly because we are
looked down on.
"Sometimes young gangsters come by and mistreat us. They try to steal drugs and money, and sometimes they force us to have sex with them for free."
Srey Lin works as a hairdresser in the daytime but said she turned to prostitution because she did not earn enough to support herself. She added that most of her clients are older Cambodian men, and that ladyboys usually earn about US$20 a night.
"We work from 8pm until midnight, and when we see the police we all split up and pretend to be visitors," she said.
"We have to do this job secretly because we are looked down on by the wider community, especially the women, but we conduct our business properly: We only go over to a man if he stops his moto near us. We do not sit or stand on the edge of the road and call out to clients."
Rotana, an employee at the Phnom Pich Hotel, which faces the bridge, says she is pleased the ladyboys have moved on, viewing them as a threat to decent society.
"I think the police made the right decision moving the ladyboys from Pursat Bridge," she said.
"This province is unsafe today because of the anarchy of these gay groups. They always used to fight with gangsters on the bridge. Even though police banned them from the bridge, I can still hear them calling out from the gardens and I think police should ban them from there too."
Klem Sokoun, chief of the Pursat provincial health department, said his office is growing increasingly worried about the spread of HIV/Aids through gay brothels.
He said it is conducting research into the brothels and that a crackdown is likely to begin soon.