UN Report Shows Decrease in Sex Trafficking

The number of human trafficking victims being forced into prostitution in Cambodia decreased substantially between 2003 and 2008, even as the number of sex workers more than doubled, ac­cording to a report by the UN In­ter-Agency Pro­ject on Human Trafficking.

The authors of the report, who conducted a nationwide survey of sex-work venues, found that of the 27,925 sex workers currently em­ployed in this country, 433 were women and children being forced to perform sexual acts against their will. In a 2003 study, the same re­searchers found that 1,074 of the 18,256 sex workers then employed in Cambodia’s sex industry were not allowed to leave their place of employment or were under the age of consent, the conditions they used to define sex-trafficking victims.

Thomas Steinfatt and Simon Ba­ker, social scientists who headed the new study, qualified their results by pointing out that uncertainty and error continue to be the bedfellows of those attempting to quantify sex work in Cambodia.

“Conceptual definitions are often difficult to define operationally in terms of the behaviors and situations…held to constitute trafficking,” they wrote.

According to the survey, roughly a third of those trafficked within Cambodia were of Vietnamese decent, and 87 were indebted to their captors.

About 60 percent of the 2,220 sex-work venues surveyed for the report were “indirect” sites, where customers could solicit sexual services, but not necessarily receive them. Karaoke parlors, some bars and rest stops, beer gardens and public spaces frequented by prostitutes fell within this category, while brothels and massage parlors were labeled “direct” sites.

Mr Steinfatt and Mr Baker wrote that while their results were “very reasonable estimates,” they would most likely by stirred into a discussion characterized by “inaccurate information…entering the public debate.”

Keo Tha, the coordinator of the sex worker’s union Women’s Net­work for Unity, estimated earlier this week that one in 10 sex workers in Phnom Penh was a victim of trafficking. Ms Tha said her organization reports apparent trafficking victims to the authorities but that the government does not deal differently with sex trafficking victims than with willing sex workers.

“The government’s policies make no clear distinction between willing sex workers and trafficked women yet,” said Ms Tha.

SRP Lawmaker and former Min­ister of Women’s Affairs Mu So­chua said on Tuesday that few cases are ever brought against those who hold unwilling workers captive.

“The court system rarely punishes human smugglers because of bribes, which is why mechanism to stop trafficking don’t work,” said Ms Sochua, adding that there remained little “public awareness of the difference between prostitution and sex trafficking.”

Updated statistics may not be a part of that conversation, according to UNIAP Cambodia Program Coordinator Lim Tith, who said yesterday his organization currently lacks the funding to conduct a new survey.

“We think this is very difficult to gauge how many trafficked people there are and, because we do not have the money now, we want to have another survey done in a few years,” said Mr Tith. “The data from the 2008 study is a bit old, but it still helpful.”

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