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They receive no money, only food, and there are armed guards to stop them from running away. Violence against prostitutes, especially gang rape , called bauk in Cambodian, [22] is common. According to some sources, such assaults are not condemned by society due to the stigmatization of prostitutes [24] — a survey on opinions on bauk showed that only 13 percent of the males and 13 percent of the females interviewed considered that sex forced by a group of men on a prostitute was rape.

The most common response — Transmission is mainly through heterosexual contact. Factors contributing to this include poverty, the presence of other STIs which facilitate HIV transmission, and a highly mobile workforce. Improvement has been seen in the last decade [ when? State Department frequently condemns Cambodia for its sex trade, and downgraded their categorisation of the country in Every sex worker interviewed by Human Rights Watch, including the children, had to pay a lous to the police on at least one occasion, the majority more than once.

Sex workers either pay it directly, or friends, relatives or their employer comes to the police station and pays it to secure their release. The next month, police arrested Tola again and this time police detained her at the police station for one night before sending her to the Social Affairs Office and then an NGO shelter because she had no money to pay the police. Sex workers in Siem Reap also said they paid bribes to police for release. In August a year-old sex worker spent two days in police custody after the police raided the bar where she worked in Siem Reap town.

In another August raid on a foreign-owned bar, hostesses alleged that the Phnom Penh Anti-Human Trafficking Police stole money and tried to collect bribes.

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One hostess, Serey, said: According to Serey, all of the women including the cashier, cleaner, cook, bartender, waitresses, hostesses, and security guard were sent directly to the municipal office of Social Affairs. Police arresting sex workers often steal personal belongings, such as money, mobile phones, and jewelry. The vast majority of sex workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch had cash or items stolen.

Because stealing by police is so common, sex workers try to hide their money. But police, often male, do invasive cavity searches to search them thoroughly, including their underwear.

Cambodian sex workers abused

A common degrading treatment by police is forcing sex workers to clean the toilet at police stations in Phnom Penh, especially at Wat Phnom and Tonle Basak stations. For instance, Nimol, arrested in late with ten other sex workers by Tonle Basak commune police said:. Police ask sex workers to massage them or dance for them. Sometimes they ask them to have sex with them as mentioned above under rape.

Chanthou, arrested in late said:. Sex workers also describe how police parade them in front of film crews and cameras without their consent. Srey Keo, a male-to-female transgender sex worker picked up in August and held at Wat Phnom police station said:. In the provinces, police generally release sex workers straight into the custody of NGOs. In Phnom Penh, however, degrading treatment of sex workers continues after police transfer them to the custody of the Municipal Social Affairs office in Phnom Penh.

They are held together with other detainees including beggars, homeless people, street children, and people who use drugs. While the office is not an official detention facility, women, children, and transgender women are detained in the same room for periods ranging from several hours to two days before being released or transferred to an NGO, or to the Prey Speu Social Affairs center on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. In Phnom Penh, the municipal Social Affairs office generally will not release sex workers delivered to them by police unless an NGO offering support services is willing to take custody of them regardless of age , by signing a form for their release at the municipal office.

Off the streets - Arbitrary Detention and Other Abuses Against Sex Workers in Cambodia.

Since the sex workers detained at the office have, most probably, not been charged with any offense, the adults should be free to leave the municipal Social Affairs office whenever they wish, and should not be required to be signed over to the custody of NGOs. The standards are somewhat different for children, whose release could be either into the care of a guardian or a suitable organization that protects children.

Most sex workers agree to sign the agreement because they are scared and want to get out of the custody of the authorities. A copy of one of these agreements obtained by Human Rights Watch states:. It is doubtful that this agreement is accorded any weight under Cambodian law, and it would fail any test under international law.


The fact that sex workers have no meaningful alternative but to sign the agreement further undermines any weight it may have. Rather, as a pre-requisite to release from unlawful detention, it simply constitutes another form of unlawful interference with the right to liberty and security. Sex workers are again subject to violent abuse at the Municipal Social Affairs Office.

Several of those who have been detained there tell of one employee, a male amputee, who is particularly abusive, beating detainees and sexually harassing them. Srey Pha, detained overnight in the office in late , said:. Another sex worker who has been detained several times at the Social Affairs Office in Phnom Penh described an incident in July Others, including homeless people arrested in street sweeps, have also reported to local human rights workers how a male amputee working there used violence against detainees.

Although this is a significant decrease in the number of sex workers detained there since , the decrease is largely due to ongoing advocacy efforts by sex worker groups and the fact that there are several NGOs willing to receive sex workers from MOSAVY. Others groups vulnerable to arbitrary detention but that have less advocacy support, such as the homeless, continue to be held at Prey Speu. Sex workers detained at Prey Speu in June told Human Rights Watch that Social Affairs center staff warned them that they could be detained for up to three months in Prey Speu if they were arrested again and sent to the municipal Social Affairs office a second time.

The fact that individuals are involuntarily detained at Social Affairs centers without due process renders the detentions arbitrary and illegal under international law. Those held in the centers, whether sex workers or others, go through no legal process before being sent to the centers. There is no clear legal basis on which they are transferred and then detained at the centers. At no stage during their detention do detainees have access to legal representation.

There is no judicial review of their detention nor is there an opportunity for detainees to appeal their detention. Illegal detention or unlawful deprivation of liberty is a crime in Cambodia, whether committed by state or non-state actors.

Off the Streets: Arbitrary Detention and Other Abuses against Sex Workers in Cambodia

Persistent allegations of abuses at Prey Speu and Koh Kor centers make it crucial that they both be closed permanently. Human rights organizations have documented and reported serious abuses in both centers. Botum, age 26, described her detention at Koh Kor in June Sex workers described how guards beat and kicked them and others who did not follow their orders, and how those who tried to escape would be beaten with particular severity. One sex worker said she was kicked by the guard when he opened the door.

Guards were known to threaten to kill people to prevent them from escaping, and one woman miscarried as a result of beatings. Malis, a year-old detained in Prey Speu in November said:. Detainees told Human Rights Watch that guards raped women in the presence of other detainees in Prey Speu center. One sex worker detained there in early said that three guards came inside the room at night to rape two women sleeping near her. The two women left the next day.

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A year-old sex worker detained in November in Prey Speu center said:. Children have been among those detained in Prey Speu and Koh Kor. Human Rights Watch believes that from time to time people are still effectively detained at Prey Speu against their will and unable to leave. If there was no relative or NGO to take custody of them, then they remained in the center for an unspecified period. Srey Thea, years-old, was detained in Prey Speu in June Srey Thea elected to go to Prey Speu and according to her description, those detained involuntarily at Prey Speu were housed separately from others who volunteer to stay at the center:.

Once they arrive, they have no real ability to leave since guards are constantly monitoring their movements. Human Rights Watch attempted to visit Prey Speu on November 5, , however the gates were locked and guards denied access. The guard told Human Rights Watch that prior permission from the Municipal Social Affairs office is required to visit the center.

However, the government failed to respond. After processing at the Municipal Social Affairs office, sex workers that are not sent to Prey Speu are sent to NGOs that provide services to sex workers such as counseling, and vocational training. In some cases shelter is offered, though it is not always clear that it is done on a consensual basis.

In July and August , sex workers reported to Human Rights Watch that two NGO-run shelters had kept adult sex workers against their will for periods of time ranging from several hours to a few days. At least two sex workers who were on ARV medicine, but who did not have their drugs with them at the time of the arrest by the authorities, were sent to the center in July They each missed three days worth of medicine as they were unable to access any ARVs at the centre. One of them said they had requested a family member to bring the ARV medicine but the staff did not allow them to contact the family member.

Shelter staff released them only after several organizations intervened with the NGO. A agreement between some NGOs that provide housing or services to victims of trafficking, and some government entities attempted to address this issue by outlining basic standards of shelters and rights of clients, including an obligation to secure victim consent to remain in a shelter and to allow victims to leave.

When interviewed by Human Rights Watch in November , the staff of the two NGOs acknowledged that in the past, staff had sometimes pressured sex workers to stay at the center for a few days in order to counsel them and keep them safe, while encouraging them to take advantage of skills training and other programs offered by the centers. While this may be well-intentioned, if in practice the women wish to leave, but are not free to do so, it amounts to unlawful deprivation of liberty.

While the two NGOs may have effectively prohibited sex workers from leaving their centers on certain occasions in the past, the NGOs stated that their current policy is not to detain anyone and people are free to leave at any time. Human rights groups and sex worker groups confirmed that the practices had changed over time. As such Cambodia has an obligation under international law to protect the rights of sex workers and prevent violations against them, including taking steps to eliminate human trafficking, and all appropriate measures to prevent sexual exploitation of children.

Of most relevance to sex workers are the rights not to be arbitrarily arrested or detained, nor to be subject to torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, as well as the rights to due process and to health. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law. Any person detained on grounds that are not in accordance with the law is detained arbitrarily and therefore unlawfully.

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In a study of international legal standards on detaining victims of trafficking, Gallagher and Pearson provide some guidance on specific circumstances in which detention in shelters is likely to be arbitrary and unlawful. International law requires states to ensure that necessary procedural guarantees are in place to identify and respond to situations of unlawful or arbitrary deprivation of liberty.

Detainees must have a right to challenge their detention in a court. The need to detain children separately from adults is recognized in the CRC, and the specific circumstances of children is addressed in the UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty.

The actions of police and other government officials routinely violate these basic rights which Cambodia is legally bound to uphold. For instance, arresting adult sex workers in brothels or on the streets only to transfer them to shelters from which they cannot freely leave, yet for which there is no lawful basis to detain them, violates their right to liberty and security.

International treaties on slavery, slavery-like practices, and human trafficking also call upon countries to define specific acts involving forced sex work as crimes and take appropriate steps to address these situations, including protecting the rights of victims of these crimes. However, it is always incumbent upon states, whatever legal framework is adopted, to respect the fundamental rights of individuals engaged in sex work, whether voluntarily or not. International law is clear with regards the prohibition on the involvement of children—that is all those under 18—in sex work.

The failure to investigate and prosecute these abuses allows police and other state officials to prey on sex workers without fear of punishment. NGOs, international organizations, and others have repeatedly brought these failings to the attention of the Cambodian government. One outcome was the issuance of guidelines to the law intended to prevent the worst abuses.

However, continuing government inaction has left the guidelines to languish with little positive effect. At this event the Secretary General of the United Nations as well as other UN and government officials spoke out consistently against violence and criminal sanctions on the basis of sexual orientation and, somewhat inconsistently, spoke out against violence on the basis of gender identity.