About 2,000 sex workers have been arrested on the streets of Phnom Penh over the past seven years, and many of those who are placed in police custody are subjected to abuse, extortion and even rape, according to an advocacy group that held a workshop in the capital on Tuesday.
Although the workshop was meant to engage sex workers in discussions with local authorities on issues of safety, only two out of nine local-level officials who were invited showed up for the event, according to Keo Tha, education officer at the Women’s Network for Unity.
Ms. Tha said that police officers were the greatest threat to sex workers in the city.
“When the district police arrest sex workers, they beat them, they discriminate against them, they extort money from them, they make them clean the toilets and force them to have sex if they wish to be released,” Ms. Tha claimed.
Since the Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation came into effect in 2008, Ms. Tha estimated that more than 2,000 sex workers have been arrested in Phnom Penh. She said the law, which makes prostitution punishable by one to six days in prison, has been widely abused.
“It’s a law used as an excuse to abuse the sex workers, so we want to get rid of these articles in the law,” she said.
Asked what the local government would do to fix the problem, Nheun Mom, a Tuol Kok district official who attended the workshop, said that she would “raise the issue, study it and report it.”
“We regret that no police came today,” Ms. Mom added.
Contacted by telephone, Daun Penh district governor Kuoch Chamroeun, who did not send a representative to Tuesday’s meeting, denied that abuses against sex workers took place in his district.
“Please find the evidence that we are responsible,” he said. “And please stop [sex workers] from being on the public streets.”