Heavy police scrutiny during the Water Festival beginning Saturday is likely to cause Phnom Penh brothels to close up shop rather than cater to customers among the swelling crowds, according to an industry expert.
Authorities this month estimated that 3 million people would attend the festivities in the capital but according to Keo Tha, coordinator of the sex worker collective Women’s Network for Unity, businesses in the local illicit sex trade will likely close as police step up enforcement.
“Most of the sex workers working will be independent,” said Ms Tha, adding that prostitutes expected that the police would crack down before the festival officially begins on Saturday.
Ms Tha said yesterday she met with sex workers earlier this week, urging them to avoid public spaces where they might be arrested.
“Our business will be quiet during the Water Festival,” said the operator of an apparent brothel billed as a massage parlor in Daun Penh district.
Phnom Penh police chief Touch Naruth said the city would be vigilant in preventing brothels from operating.
“Phnom Penh has no brothels but we will take action against any secret brothels in Phnom Penh,” he said yesterday before declining to comment further.
A Human Rights Watch report released in July claimed that “street sweeps and raids on entertainment venues tended to increase around high-profile regional or international events in Phnom Penh and important public holidays such as…Water Festival.”
The National Aids Authority is currently helping to distribute 450,000 condoms prior to the beginning of the festival, said NAA Communications Director Sim Kimsan.
“We will give out condoms in the provinces as well as in Phnom Penh, where we will do an outreach with 570 volunteers to hand them out,” said Dr Kimsan.
According to NAA statistics, there are roughly 36,000 entertainment workers who offer sexual services in Cambodia, 17,000 of whom work in and around Phnom Penh.