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Abuse, Rape Await Sex Workers in Detention: Human Rights Watch

  • Chun Sakada
  • VOA Khmer

Sex workers are facing unlawful arrests and abuse by police and other authorities in government detention, Human Rights Watch reported Tuesday.

Citing interviews with 90 different sex workers, the international organization said the women face rape, physical abuse and robbery at the hands of authorities—charges a government spokesman denied.

“The Cambodian government should order a prompt and thorough investigation into these systematic violations of sex workers' human rights and shut down the centers where these people have been abused,” Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said.

The 76-page report, “Off the Streets: Arbitrary Detention and Other Abuses Against Sex Workers in Cambodia,” is based on interviews with women and transgendered prostitutes in Phnom Penh and the provinces of Battambang, Banteay Meanchey and Siem Reap.

Sex workers are regularly arrested in sweeps of streets and parks and other sites under a 2008 anti-trafficking law that ill-defines crimes and allows the abuses to occur, the group said. Human Rights Watch found that even members of the anti-trafficking unit were culpable in some abuses.

“Sex workers told Human Rights Watch that police officers beat them with their fists, sticks, wooden handles and electric shock batons,” the group said in a statement. “In several instances, police officers raped sex workers while they were in police detention. Every sex worker that Human Rights Watch spoke to had to pay bribes or had money stolen from them by police officers.”

The group also pointed to “abysmal” conditions in the government center called Prey Speu, where it says at least three people were beaten to death between 2006 and 2008 and where a few sex workers have been detained this year. The center is a collecting point for marginalized groups such as street children, homeless and sex workers.

“The Cambodian government should immediately and permanently close down detention centers such as Prey Speu, where people are being unlawfully detained, beaten up and abused,” Pearson said in a statement. “Prosecuting those who commit these crimes will send a strong message that abuses against sex workers are not tolerated.”

Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, denied the reports' findings.

“The sex trade is an illegal business in Cambodia, but our authorities do not use violence to suppress the sex trade,” he said.

Detained sex workers are kept in “social affairs centers” run by the government, where they are trained for “proper professions,” he said.

“If Human Rights Watch directly raises the names of police who committed crimes against sex workers, we will be happy to receive it,” he said. “But we regard the Human Rights Watch report as an accusation against the police that is not factual nor constructive criticism.”

He called the report an act of “defamation” against the government.

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