Guns and Fear: Routine Hazard for ‘Beer Girls’

Srey Cheat’s work in dangerous. The 24-year-old promotes international beer brands in Phnom Penh.

In the course of her night’s work she has lost count of the number of times that police officers and soldiers have drawn guns on her.

“I feel like they think we are cattle. We can be shot at any time by customers who are unhappy with us,” Srey Cheat said.

Recently, a man pointed a gun at Srey Cheat’s head and ordered her into his car. She was driven away and the gunman and some friends raped her.

A’Sros, also a beer promotion worker, also had a gun put to her head by an exuberant guest who thought it would impress his pals.

“A customer put a gun to my head so he could pour beer over my body. I was very scared, and that man and his friends just laughed at me,” said A’Sros, who used only her nickname.

“I have experienced many serious incidents with clients who wear civilian clothes but carry guns and police handcuffs,” the 21-year-old said.

Four women have been shot and injured by members of the military in four separate shooting at night entertainment spots in Phnom Penh since February. In all cases, the perpetrators have walked free.

Oung Chanthol, executive director of the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, has just returned from Denmark where she traveled to discuss the safety of Cambodia’s “beer girls” with officials from the brewer Carlsberg.

Carlsberg last August acquired a 50 percent share in Angkor beer maker Cambrew Ltd, and officials of the Danish brewer have agreed to improve working conditions for beer promoters, and will come to Cambodia next week to discuss exactly how, she said.

But, ultimately, it is the government who should pass a law to ensure beer promotion girls are safe and those that harm them are punished, Oung Chanthol added.

Former minister of women’s affairs Mu Sochua said she is sending a demand to the National Assembly and various government ministries “to find justice for victims and provide punishment for those who shoot girls for fun.”

One beer distribution company representative said on Thursday that he hoped that female promotion staff could talk their way out of serious injury.

“I am really sorry to hear about the shootings,” said Chea Mong, general manager at ASIA Sunrise Co Ltd, which imports Japan’s Asahi beer.

“I am only hopeful those beer girls will be smart and clever and talk to their guests to avoid harassment,” he said.

Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema, who last year threatened to shut down unruly beer gardens and restaurants, could not be reached for comment.

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