A group of seven Vietnamese and Cambodian girls were freed during a raid on a brothel in Battambang province on Wednesday night in which three suspected brokers were arrested, according to anti-human trafficking police.
Officers entered the nameless “massage parlor” in Kamrieng district’s Boeng Raing commune at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, according to Sao Sopha, deputy chief of the provincial anti-human trafficking police.
“We raided one brothel…and rescued 13 sex workers, including nine Vietnamese prostitutes—six of whom were underage,” she said, adding that police also rescued one Cambodian girl.
Three people suspected of running the brothel were arrested at the scene and were held in provincial police custody on Thursday, according to Ms. Sopha, who said they would be sent to court today.
Despite describing the entire group as “rescued,” Ms. Sopha said the adult sex workers were brought in for questioning along with the alleged sex brokers. She identified the suspected brokers as Seng Loek, 43, and In Sopheap, 36—a couple who was renting the building—and Im Kong, 26.
She said all of the underage girls were now in the care of NGO Agape International Missions (AIM), which assisted the investigation into the brothel.
AIM investigations director Eric Meldrum said his organization began looking into the brothel two to three months ago.
“We kind of started [the investigation],” Mr. Meldrum said, adding that while he couldn’t comment on the specific methods used to identify that underage sex-trafficking was taking place in the Battambang brothel, the process followed a familiar formula.
“We’ve got good information and sources, and we identify the girls in the place and confirm who they are,” he said, adding that while the underage sex trade was less visible than in the past, the trade still existed in “fairly healthy numbers.”
“It’s definitely moved a bit underground from [the past], but you don’t have to go far…. It’s all still there,” he said. “It used to cater to foreigners and now it caters to locals—the industry has changed.”
According to Mr. Meldrum, the girls freed in the latest raid are currently en route to an AIM care facility where they will be given support to help them eventually reintegrate into society.
The Vietnamese girls were likely to stay in Cambodia, he said, as their families were usually responsible for selling them into the sex trade in the first place.
“Sending them back to the families isn’t going to help much,” he said.
District police chief Than Channara said the massage parlor had been closed in the past due to illegal activity, but that it had reopened and continued offering clandestine services in the evening.
“We have closed this brothel two or three times,” he said. “But the… owner was still secretly operating it [as a brothel].”