Study: Karaoke Ban Sends Women to Brothels Industry

A report on the effects of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s November 2001 order to close all karaoke bars and nightclubs has found that conditions for women formerly employed in the karaoke industry have significantly declined as a result.

The study, conducted by Ad­hoc and a number of organizations working in the field of wo­men’s rights, surveyed 184 sex workers and karaoke singers and 87 brothel and karaoke bar owners in April and May.

It states that the directive forced many karaoke singers to be­come sex workers—a perceived lessening of status and an actual lessening of income, safety and independence.

Many women who formerly worked as singers would, at times, choose to supplement their in­comes through sex work, but were able to do so on their own terms, and in a safer, more respectable environment, the re­port states.

Now, many of these women have, through a lack of alternative employment opportunities, turned to brothel-based sex work.

“It can be said in general that [Cambodian] society looks down more on sex workers than on kar­aoke women,” the report stated. While karaoke singers are perceived as glamorous and often achieve near-celebrity status in their neighborhoods, ordinary sex workers are considered to be “bad girls,” and are vulnerable to a number of abuses. Chief among these, the report says, is violence—either threatened or real. “[Twenty-three] percent of surveyed sex workers and karaoke singers stated that their work place had become more violent after the closure of the ka­ra­oke bars.”

Surveyors gathered reports of policemen beating sex workers when they insisted on condom use and policemen refusing to pay after having sex. Ordinary clients, too, presented a far greater risk of violence when taken from the environment of a karaoke bar into a brothel situation.

“[Seventeen] percent of sex workers have been forced to have sex with a policeman or another guest on at least one occasion, and for many of them this happened several times,” the report said.

Though many respondents said they considered kara­oke parlors to be a root cause of so­cial disorder, the majority said they thought closing the parlors was an improper way to combat crime.

Instead, they suggested age limits, regulated hours and an end to opaque windows in VIP rooms. “Respon­dents want kara­oke bars to be about singing and not about sex services,” the report said.

Related Stories

Latest News

The Weekly DispatchA weekly newsletter from The Cambodia Daily delivering news, analysis and opinion to your inbox. Published every Friday at 11:30am. Sign up today.