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Scarlet Alliance Media Release: "Cambodian Sex Workers face Anti-Trafficking Violence" 23 June 08

A crisis in anti-trafficking measures in Cambodia has resulted in violence, rape and the deaths of sex workers in detention centres. As a result, the national HIV prevention programs for sex workers have completely broken down. Sex workers hold a vigil outside the Cambodian Embassy in Canberra, 24th June 2008.

"Cambodia has recently passed an anti-trafficking law which equates all sex work with trafficking and has led to massive closures of brothels and widespread human rights abuses against sex workers," Andrew Hunter, spokesperson for the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers, said today.

Link to video evidence of the violence in Cambodia:

"Criminalising sex work does not result in the abolition of sex work. Instead it creates an underground sex industry that makes sex workers more vulnerable to corruption and exploitation and less able to access mainstream health and protective services. History has proven that efforts to abolish the sex industry have been attempted many times in many countries and have failed in every case," Elena Jeffreys, President of Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association said today. "The collapse of HIV prevention amongst this vulnerable population is a tragedy for sex workers and, potentially, a disaster for the general population."

"Perhaps most shocking is the fact that almost every sex worker has been raped either by the police or when they are put into detention centres. If the police that conduct the raid demand sex from the women and they refuse, they are beaten up and raped by them. Rape by security guards at the detention centre is routine. Some women do not resist in order to avoid physical pain from the security guards while others, especially those being arrested for the first time, are reporting more severe violence and rape," Pik Sokchea of the Womens Network for Unity, Cambodian Sex Workers Union, stated today. "Attempts by the women to get the rapists to use condoms are usually ignored and we can assume that many of the police and guards are HIV positive and transmitting the virus through these criminal activities."

Australian sex workers will be delivering a letter to the Cambodian Embassy. The letter, signed by sex workers, sex worker organisations, and supporters, recommends that:

  • sex work not be conflated with human trafficking and other human rights abuses.
  • the situation to be urgently addressed by the government of Cambodia and for UNAIDS and other UN agencies to openly declare their support for sex workers human rights and reject the anti-trafficking laws as a violation of sex workers human rights.
  • The anti-trafficking laws in Cambodia be repealed immediately.