Eleven women working at a Phnom Penh barbershop—including the owner—confessed on Wednesday to having sex with patrons after the establishment was raided by anti-trafficking police on Tuesday, officials said.
Police said the raid was carried out in response to a complaint filed with them last week, although a neighbor said the salon in Daun Penh district had been operating as a brothel for more than a decade, and that she had told authorities about it months ago.
“We investigated the barbershop before the raid,” said Keo Thea, chief of the city’s anti-human trafficking bureau.
“I sent my spy to pretend to get a haircut there. We know this barbershop was actually running a brothel after a lady there asked him if he wanted a massage,” he said, adding that the undercover officer did not go through with buying sex, but saw multiple bedrooms at the back of the shop.
Mr. Thea said his officers arrested 11 Cambodian and Vietnamese women between the ages of 17 and 30 on Tuesday, and that all of them, including the owner, confessed to “selling sex” on the premises when questioned at the municipal police headquarters. He said they would be sent to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for further questioning today.
The owner of a dry-cleaning business across the street from the Reksmey Chan Thea barbershop in Phsar Thmei I commune said a dozen uniformed and plainclothes officers entered the building at about 4 p.m. on Tuesday and spent around two hours inside before leading the women away.
“When the police arrived the owner of the barbershop ran into her neighbor’s house and two policemen went to get her back,” said the woman, who declined to give her name for fear of reprisals from neighbors.
She said the barbershop had been open for about a decade, but that she did not know it was also a brothel, adding that staff appeared to be free to come and go as they wished.
A next-door neighbor, however, said she had known the shop’s Vietnamese owner since it opened 11 years ago, and had told local officials in May that she suspected staff were prostituting themselves there.
The woman, who also requested anonymity for fear of retribution, said she was twice told by police not to make trouble after complaining about the business earlier this year.
“This barbershop has been running as a brothel since it started,” she said. In both May and June, she said, “I shouted in front of my house, to the public, that running a brothel is illegal…When the police arrived they told me not to shout, and to calm down.”
Mr. Thea said he was not aware of prior complaints about the barbershop.
“This barbershop has been open for a long time but changed owners very often and I never received any complaints about a brothel,” he said.