A recent United Nations report stated that 11.3% of Cambodian men had raped a woman in the past year. Here, four sex workers share their shocking stories of rape, gang rape and violence
SE Globe Magazine | 15 Nov. 2013
They sit in bars and cafés, hang out with their friends, play with their children or take their wives to the market. Nothing looks unusual about them, yet more than a fifth of Cambodian men between the ages of 18 and 49 have raped a woman at least once. That’s more than 510,000 men countrywide.
In a regional survey by the United Nations, men in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka were asked about their attitudes towards physical and sexual violence against women. Cambodian men stood out for having a higher tendency to gang rape women than men interviewed in other Asia-Pacific countries.
Hundreds of thousands of Cambodian grandmothers, mothers and daughters suffer sexual and physical abuse, but equally shocking are the candid accounts from the Kingdom’s freelance ‘entertainment workers’, the preferred term among international agencies and rights groups for sex workers.
Walking the streets at night, they are no strangers to the dark side shown by youngsters and family men when they are with women they see as inferior. Beatings, rape and gang rape occur on a regular basis, according to four women who agreed to share their stories. The women work around Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park and Olympic Stadium, and violence is ubiquitous while
colleagues disappear randomly. It’s a dangerous job, the women said, but one they had become accustomed to.
UN Statistic: Alcohol was the least common reason cited by Cambodian as an excuse for rape. 42% stated that they were driven by anger or punishment
I don’t know how many times I was gang raped. I have been working in this business for 17 years now, so I have learned a lot about different customers. Most of the men who come are a little bit drunk or on drugs, but even if they aren’t, many of them are violent. Usually I carry a knife with me to defend myself, but if there are many men, it’s better to keep quiet because they can kill you.
UN Statistic: Gang rape was more common in Cambodia than non-spousal or -partner rape by a single perpetrator, with 23% of men having participated in gang rapeBopha, 29
My family lives in Vietnam, but they are very poor and sent me to live with my uncle in Phnom Penh, where I started to work at a beer garden when I was about 15. Other girls got money if the customers touched them, so I did it too. When I lost my job, I started to work around Wat Phnom, because I had friends who worked here. Most of our customers are poor, so if they don’t have enough money to pay, I think they decide to rape us. I can’t count how many times I was raped or gang raped, but it was many, many times. It is always the same: One man picks you up and says he will take you to a guesthouse, but he takes you somewhere else and his friends follow or they’re already waiting. The first time I was gang raped a man picked me up. He left the city and I could tell that five of his friends were following us. I didn’t dare to jump off his motorbike because he was driving too fast. They dragged me into a forest and the six men raped me. They beat me, and they told me that if I screamed they would slit my throat. One of them also had a gun. He held it to my head a few times. When all of them were done, they stole my money and left me in the forest.
UN Statistic: Cambodian men reported sexually abusing their partners more frequently than physically abusing themSreymom, 24
I stopped collecting plastic bottles with my sister Sreyni when I was 14 to work in a karaoke parlour in Kandal province, not far from Phnom Penh. I didn’t like working there, because the men always got drunk and then they touched me.
I was still a virgin and didn’t want that, but the owner said I had to. One night I was told to get drunk with the guests. When
I was drunk, the owner raped me. I realised what he was doing and told him to stop, but I was drunk and too weak to fight him off. Then I started to sleep with customers, because I got more money for my family.
When I was 17, I married an older man who had some money. He had sex with me when he wanted and I didn’t love him, but I was able to stop working and stayed at home to take care of my children. When my husband died, I spoke to my grandmother about the future, and how I could earn enough for us to live on. After some discussion, we agreed that there was no other way for me to make money, so she let me go. We know the owners of the guesthouses we go to, so they help us when customers beat us. I take up to four customers per night; then I am tired and have enough money to go home. On a bad night, I don’t get any customers. That means I don’t know how to pay for rent, or for my children’s food.
UN Statistic: 45% of Cambodian men believe that they are entitled to sex with their partners and other women, regardless of whether they are in a relationshipSreyni, 22
My parents were very poor, so my sister and I went to collect plastic bottles as children. We didn’t go to school, and I got married when I was 16. I was staying at home to take care of my baby, but then my husband was arrested and put in jail. Without education, this was the only thing I could do to make money. My sister already worked in this business, which made it easier for me; she taught me to be careful and what to look out for.
I just started two months ago, but some men, you look at them and you know they are not good people. But you don’t know every time, and if you really need the money, you go with them anyway. One time, I was in a guesthouse with a customer when he started to beat me with his fists, then he tried to strangle me. I grabbed my high heel – it was lying next to me on the floor – and hit him on the head with it. When he let go of me, I shouted for help and the owner of the guesthouse came and helped me.
The customers can be bad, but I am more scared of the police. Almost every night they come and chase us and we run away and hide. So far, they only caught up with me once; they started to beat me with wooden sticks that they found along the way. I had bruises all over my body.