Sex workers in Cambodia face rape, arbitrary arrest, extortion and other abuses at the hands of the authorities, according to a 20 July Human Rights Watch (HRW) report.
“We're looking for the Cambodian government to take steps to address abuses against marginalized groups, such as such sex workers, whose voices are rarely heard,” Sara Colm, a researcher for HRW, told IRIN.
Rights groups have called for the closure of holding centres for sex workers, drug users and beggars. The government says these are social rehabilitation facilities, but critics contend they serve draconian policies motivated by control, profit and cruelty. The report cites allegations that at least three sex workers were beaten to death by guards between 2006 and 2008.
Reports of official abuse against sex workers spiked in 2008 after the government launched a US-backed law criminalizing commercial sex work. Activists say the measure pushed the phenomenon deeper underground, making sex workers more vulnerable to trafficking and pushing them away from health groups instrumental in curbing the country's HIV/AIDS rates.