Phnom Penh police raided what they described as the city’s oldest karaoke and massage parlor Saturday. The raid on the Vimean Kam Sann club occurred without assistance from anti-trafficking NGOs for the second time in two months, officials said Sunday.
Dozens of Tuol Sangke commune police blocked National Road 5 north of the Japanese Bridge in Russei Keo district for about an hour Saturday afternoon while municipal anti-trafficking police conducted the sweep.
“We have spent many months investigating into this club, and on Saturday we went in with a warrant issued by municipal court Deputy Prosecutor Nget Sarath,” said Keo Thea, deputy police chief of the municipality’s anti-trafficking unit.
Twenty women were rescued from the Vimean Kam Sann club and were held at the anti-trafficking unit’s headquarters over the weekend and will be transferred to the municipal department of social affairs today for re-education, Keo Thea said.
Ten people working at the club were arrested, he said. Four of them, including three managers and a cashier, will appear in Phnom Penh Municipal Court today. The other six will also be sent for re-education, he said.
The women’s written confessions will also be presented to the court, Keo Thea said.
Keo Thea said the Cambodian-American owner was not arrested.
He said none of the women were underage—they were all between the ages of 18 and 25—and some were working as volunteers at the club, which he said has been in operation since 1992, originally as the Sok Sann club.
The name was changed to Vimean Kam Sann, Keo Thea said, when it was bought by a Cambodian-American man in 1994 and has been operating under that name ever since.
He said police had received numerous complaints from women who had worked and were working inside the club and the raid was part of an Interior Ministry effort to stamp out illegal sex services.
Tuol Sangke commune police Chief Khat Darasy said police found condoms, receipts and pornographic pictures inside the club, all of which will be forwarded to the court as evidence.
NGO officials welcomed news of the raid, but some questioned the motives for the raid and the reason they were not asked to come along.
“It is very unusual,” said Chanthol Oung, director of the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center. “They used to raid based only on NGO complaints.”
While police taking the initiative would be considered a good thing in most countries, Chanthol Oung was concerned that without an NGO presence, police might not have conducted the raid properly.
“Maybe they are competent enough to do it on their own now,” she said. “Or maybe they don’t want the NGOs to see what they are doing.”
Last month, in the largest raid since the Chay Hour II hotel, municipal anti-trafficking police rescued 88 women from the Phnom Penh’s World One massage parlor and arrested four men, again without NGO assistance.
The following day, some of the women told reporters they had been mistreated and all of their belongings had been confiscated by police who refused to return the items.
One of the women also said it was against World One rules to have sex with clients, but many women did it voluntarily to make extra money.
Chanthol Oung said if police are going to conduct raids without assistance, they must respect the women they are supposedly trying to help and not violate their rights.
“Police have to respect them,” she said.
Chanthol Oung suggested that the motive of the raid was to show the US that the government is serious about fighting human trafficking.
The US has threatened to level sanctions against the country for its poor performance on trafficking issues, especially the handling of the raid on anti-trafficking NGO Afesip’s women’s shelter in December, during which armed men seized alleged prostitutes and returned them to the Chay Hour II hotel.
“I think that is a factor pushing them,” Chanthol Oung said. “It’s good the American pressure is working. But they have to do it for their own people. Otherwise it’s not sustainable.”