Cambodia: Sex Workers Face Unlawful Arrests and Detention

(Phnom Penh) – The Cambodian government should act quickly to end violence against sex workers and permanently close the government centers where these workers have been unlawfully detained and abused, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. Human Rights Watch also urged the Cambodian government to suspend provisions in the 2008 Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation that facilitate police harassment and abuses.

Human Rights Watch’s 76-page report, "Off the Streets: Arbitrary Detention and Other Abuses against Sex Workers in Cambodia," is based on more than 90 interviews and group discussions with female and transgender sex workers in Phnom Penh, Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, and Siem Reap. It describes how sex workers face a wide range of abuses, including beatings, extortion, and rape at the hands of authorities, particularly in Phnom Penh.

"For far too long, police and other authorities have unlawfully locked up sex workers, beaten and sexually abused them, and looted their money and other possessions," said Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The Cambodian government should order a prompt and thorough independent investigation into these systematic violations of sex workers’ human rights and shut down the centers where these people have been abused."

Police arrest sex workers in regular sweeps on the streets and parks of Phnom Penh. Some of the violence is opportunistic, while other abuses commonly occur in periodic crackdowns and raids by police and district authorities, at times targeting sex workers specifically  and other times picking up sex workers along with other groups of marginalized people on the streets.

Police abuse sex workers with impunity. Sex workers told Human Rights Watch that police officers beat them with their fists, sticks, wooden handles, and electric shock batons. 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.

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