A red “X” of disapproval stamps down across a shot of two men trying to drag a terrified beer-promotion girl into their truck in a new television spot airing on TV3 and TVK.
“Beer girls are also dignified human beings with human rights who should be free from disrespect,” a woman states as karaoke-style, blue-bordered letters follow her words at the beginning of the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center advertisement, which was produced with assistance from the Danish NGO Dan Church Aid.
“Excuse me, may I fill your glass?” a beer girl asks a customer, who politely thanks her for the refill.
“Beer girls must be considered as your friends,” the advert continues, warning that indecently touching a beer-promotion girl can be punished with one to three years in prison.
In the next scene, customers fail to take heed of the warning, as one compliments the woman on her skin and strokes her arm. Another reaches behind her and says “tonight you come and sleep with me.”
She thwarts their advances as the red “X” halts the scene. But the customers’ conduct only worsens and they try to drag the woman into their truck before another red “X” stops them in their tracks.
“Don’t regard beer girls as sex workers,” the advertisement concludes.
CWCC Advocacy Media Officer Kem Sokunthy said that approximately $7,000 was spent to produce the educational spot and air it during prime time after news broadcasts for two months.
“The purpose of producing the spot is to educate clients to stop considering beer girls like sex workers,” she said. “We want clients and the general public to express sympathy for the beer girls. They must consider beer girls as their friends by not stroking and touching them and forcing them to drink.”
Proeung Kakada, a 34-year-old who frequents beer gardens, said he thinks more should be done to educate men and protect beer-promotion girls.
“Broadcasting the educational spot is not enough,” he said. “Actual enforcement and punishment is the best way to stop stigma and harassment.”
But not all beer drinkers say the issue is so one-sided.
“I think the education spot is unfair to men, because sometimes the beer girls are the ones who harass the customers first,” said a 27-year-old hospital employee who declined to be named.
A 26-year-old student at the National University of Management, who also declined to be named, said that sexual harassment is an occupational hazard that beer girls should endure.
“Before becoming beer girls, those women are really aware that they may suffer harassment,” he said. “I think that beer girls would lose their jobs or would have to just pack up and go home if they rejected clients touching their hands.”
Kolab, a 23-year-old beer-promotion girl, said she enjoyed the advertisement, and that she hoped beer girls and clients could develop further mutual respect. Still, she added, beer girls willing to earn fewer commissions can reject clients’ harassment.
“I do not care about any criticism, because I always set myself free from harassment,” Kolab said. “The beer company owners never force us to drink beer with clients, but some beer girls do it in order to earn more money.”
But beer-promotion girl Neang Khamra said she has suffered abuse from customers and the general public since she entered the profession three years ago, and felt she could not earn money if she did not bow to customers’ whims.
“Clients never drink my beer if I refuse to sit with them or drink beer,” she said. “We never receive respect from clients or society.”