6 Rescued Sex Workers Flee NGO’s Care

Six young women from Viet­nam who were rescued from brothels in Svay Pak commune on March 29 have escaped from the care of a Phnom Penh NGO and are feared to have returned to the notorious red-light district, NGO officials said Monday.

The six women were among 37 girls and women rescued from the brothels. They were among 27 women who claimed to be over the age of 18 who were taken to local NGO Afesip last week for counseling and care. Ten girls rescued during the raid aged 10 and younger were taken to another safe house.

The six fled the NGO on Sun­day by climbing over a fence, said Nuon Thearon, acting director of Afesip.

“We are investigating this case; we do not know where they went,” Nuon Thearon said.

At the time of the escape, Afesip had at least one security guard and several staff members looking after the 27 women, he said. But somehow the “six wo­men climbed over the fence.”

However, the girls and women were not being detained by au­thorities. Rather, they were meant to be under the protection of Afesip.

The women who left the brothels had told Afesip staff that they wanted to return to Vietnam, Nuon Thearon said.

“We have two types of cases here-girls who want to leave the brothels and then the girls we received from the International Justice Mission,” he said.

The International Justice Mission, a US-based NGO which had been investigating human trafficking in the Svay Pak brothels and provided the Interior Ministry with the evidence to conduct the raid, brought the girls to Afesip.

Nuon Thearon could not say how many of the 27 women in their care had expressed a desire to return to Vietnam.

“Obviously, we are disappointed that the [women] left,” said Sharon Cohn, senior counsel for interventions for the IJM. She said she will discuss the matter with officials from Afesip and the Ministry of Interior, but declined to go into detail about those discussions.

The ministry and local police, however, will most likely not pursue the matter since the rescued girls and women were not under police custody.

“The [rescued women] are the responsibility of the NGO,” said ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak on Monday.

One NGO worker, who declined to be identified, said that with no place for the six young women to go, they will likely return to Svay Pak.

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