Cable by Dazzlepod US Embassy Diplomatic Cables from WikiLeaks Released 251287 Cables (Sep 2, 2012)
SECRET (11322)
Reference ID 06PHNOMPENH661 (original text)
OriginEmbassy Phnom Penh
ReleasedAug 30, 2011 01:44
CreatedApr 7, 2006 09:02
DE RUEHPF #0661/01 0970902
P 070902Z APR 06
E.O. 12958: N/A 
 1.  Summary.  PolOff traveled to Siem Reap to meet with NGOs, 
government officials, and conduct direct observations and 
interviews at commercial sex establishments to better assess 
the trafficking in persons (TIP) problem and the action that 
is being taken to combat TIP in the province.  NGOs 
unanimously reported good cooperation with the government and 
an increase in the number of successful prosecutions.  The 
Governor explained that combating TIP has become a priority 
for the government and he is committed to preventing Siem 
Reap from becoming a destination for sex tourists.  Sex 
workers, NGOs, government officials, and a victim of 
trafficking explained how desperate poverty pushed women into 
the commercial sex industry and made other women vulnerable 
to victimization by the sex industry.  The potential to earn 
money will continue to attract women from the countryside, 
despite heightened awareness raising and prevention campaigns 
regarding the dangers of trafficking.  End Summary. 
NGOs on TIP 
 2.  Anti-trafficking NGOs in Siem Reap Province unanimously 
reported good cooperation with the government and an increase 
in the number of successfully convicted traffickers.  NGO 
Cambodian Women's Crisis Center (CWCC) stated that 
cooperation between government and NGOs has improved 
tremendously and noted that that both male and female 
traffickers are now being arrested, prosecuted, and convicted 
- with many receiving sentences of 5-15 years imprisonment. 
The Cambodian Defenders Project (CDP), an NGO that provides 
legal assistance to victims and legal training to the police, 
commented that it has seen improved investigations and 
collection of evidence by the police.  CDP added that 
prosecutors are now receiving sufficiently strong cases that 
enable them to obtain convictions in the court.  NGO LICADHO, 
which takes a reactive approach to trafficking, explained 
that it had not received any complaints from TIP victims in 
the past year.  Agir pour les Femmes en Situation Precaire 
(AFESIP) added the greatest challenge it faced in gaining 
cooperation was not from the government, but from the 
"victims" after they had been rescued.  AFESIP explained that 
the vast majority of sex workers are adult voluntary workers 
who do not want to leave their lucrative positions.  All of 
the NGOs expressed concern that increased tourism to Siem 
Reap could lead to an increase in human trafficking.  NGOs 
also explained that there were rumors of victims being 
relocated to Siem Reap following the 2004 closure of the 
notorious Sway Pak brothel area in Phnom Penh. 
 3.  NGO Friends, which recently opened a drop-in center for 
street children in Siem Reap, explained that while it has no 
specific information on human trafficking, it has heard 
rumors that special houses outside the city have been 
established for Asian sex tourists.  Friends explained that 
its Child Safe program, which trains traditional facilitators 
(moto and tuk-tuk taxi drivers) about the importance of 
protecting vulnerable children and reporting suspicious 
activity, is a good source of information about the local 
situation.  Its facilitators have reported a high demand for 
sexual services, which coupled with the large population of 
migrants attracted to Siem Reap's booming economy, could 
produce a climate that encourages human trafficking.  Friends 
explained that although it has no clear information, it is 
concerned that poor families might engage in trafficking 
their children.  Friends also reported that many children 
engage in selling postcards and other souvenirs to foreign 
tourists are earning roughly $200-$300 per month (a 
significant amount considering many adult laborers earn $1-$2 
per day).  However, Friends has received numerous reports of 
many of these same children are propositioning foreign 
tourists to engage in commercial sex acts, which could create 
a increased demand in the province.  The Child Safe program, 
which began in September 2005, has trained 51 moto taxi and 
tuk-tuk drivers to report suspicious activity, but has 
yielded no reports to date. 
Sex Work in Seam Reap 
 4.  AFESIP reported that there are approximately 45 
commercial sex establishments in Siem Reap and roughly 1,050 
sex workers.  AFESIP explained that through its HIV 
prevention program, it is able to obtain inside information 
on potential victims working in commercial sex 
establishments.  The Department of Women's Affairs explained 
that most sex workers come from poor or broken families, 
while some come to make money to pay for their weddings or to 
earn the necessary capital to start a small business. 
PHNOM PENH 00000661  002 OF 004 
 5.  NGO Cambodian Women for Peace and Development (CWPD), 
which focuses HIV education and reduction activities for 
direct and indirect sex workers, informed PolOff that there 
are more than 100 commercial sex venues in Siem Reap, which 
attract Khmer and foreign clients.  CWPD has mapped all known 
commercial sex establishments and has received permission 
from the management to meet with the sex workers and provide 
them with health education, counseling, life planning, and 
information on vocational training opportunities.  CWPD 
informed PolOff that it believes that the vast majority of 
sex workers are adult voluntary workers; however, there may 
be a small number of victims who are not given permission to 
meet with CWPD, are too frightened to confide in the NGO, or 
have been placed in the establishment because of their 
family's impoverished economic situation.  According to CWPD, 
most of the sex workers in the large establishments are 
either women who have graduated high school and are unable to 
continue their studies or women who migrated to Siem Reap to 
work as manual laborers and discovered that commercial sex 
work was much more lucrative.  CWPD conducts weekly meetings 
to inform commercial sex workers about other economic 
alternatives; however, it is required to give a $2-$3 per 
diem to recruit participants and few are willing to leave sex 
work for less lucrative positions.  Those who do leave face 
discrimination because of their past professional history. 
 6.  Commercial sex establishments in Siem Reap, like most 
other towns in Cambodia, are divided into three types/zones: 
Khmer brothel zones, Vietnamese brothel zones, and high-end 
massage/karaoke parlors that are scattered throughout the 
town.  CWDP believes that very few sex workers are held 
against their will and if there are underage victims, they 
are well hidden.  CWDP explained that during Tet, Vietnamese 
brothels are empty, as nearly all of the sex workers return 
to Vietnam to be with their families.  CWDP explained that 
most Vietnamese sex workers traveled to Cambodia specifically 
to work in the sex industry in order to earn sufficient 
capital to return to Vietnam and start a business.  CWDP 
noted that it has encountered a small number of trafficking 
victims who were in a situation of debt bondage, but 
explained that much has been done in the area of 
awareness-raising and that women now understand their rights. 
 CWDP explained that five years ago many women could not 
leave the brothels; however, now when a new large commercial 
sex establishment opens, many workers voluntarily seek 
employment with the new establishment because it will 
increase their income.  In the past three years, CWDP has 
rescued five women who were in a situation of debt bondage 
and these women have returned to work as volunteers with the 
organization.  CWDP explained that the situation for 
commercial sex workers has greatly improved over the years 
and they are empowered and oftentimes financially successful. 
 7.  PolOff accompanied CWDP to various commercial sex 
establishments and spoke with various workers about the 
origins of their involvement in the sex industry.  Many of 
the workers were divorced women with children who traveled to 
Siem Reap from their villages seeking anonymity and were 
sending money back to their villages to support their 
families.  There were also a significant number of women who 
lived in the brothels with their husbands or boyfriends.  The 
vast majority of the Khmer and Vietnamese brothels are small 
family-run business -- oftentimes with grandparents, 
children, and sex workers living, eating, and playing 
together.  These brothels house between two to ten sex 
workers, who report that they are able to earn between $.75 
and $5 per customer, with the possibility of earning $5-$50 
per night.  The women explained that the vast majority of 
their clients are Cambodians and they only rarely see foreign 
clients.  The workers explained that they usually share half 
of the fees with the house in exchange for room, board, and 
security.  The Vietnamese brothel area was comprised of 
similar small-scale brothels and owners reported that they 
are short-staffed, as many of the workers left for the larger 
karaoke/massage parlors where there is a much greater 
potential to earn higher incomes.  During visits to high-end 
karaoke/massage parlors, sex workers explained that most had 
come to work in these locations after a friend from their 
villages had returned and told them about the potential to 
earn significant incomes as a sex worker.  According to these 
sex workers, they entered into this profession without 
deception.  They explained that they received approximately 
$20-$30 per customer (both foreign and Cambodian) before 
paying $10 for the room rental. 
 8.  PolOff later conducted informal observation of the 
commercial sex establishments under the guise of a potential 
PHNOM PENH 00000661  003 OF 004 
customer, visiting approximately 40 establishments.  PolOff 
observed several hundred sex workers in various sex 
establishments and spoke to sex workers and clients, both 
Cambodian and foreign.  The clients in the brothel areas were 
primarily Cambodian men and boys.  One boy informed PolOff 
that if he is behaves well or gets good grades at school, his 
father will reward him with a trip to the brothel.  Most 
Asian and Western tourists were observed frequenting the 
high-end karaoke/massage establishments.  During observations 
PolOff did not witness any sex workers who appeared to be 
clearly underage in the brothel areas, but it is impossible 
to determine whether any had been deceived or were in a 
situation of debt bondage.  PolOff received information from 
a moto taxi driver of a sex establishment that had young 
girls available to customers.  PolOff observed two girls who 
appeared to be underage and provided NGO International 
Justice Mission with the information for appropriate 
investigation and action. 
A Victim Speaks Out 
 9.  PolOff visited the Cambodian Women's Crisis Center (CWCC) 
shelter, which housed about 60 residents, most of whom are 
victims of domestic violence and rape.  CWCC explained that 
the greatest problem facing women and girls in Cambodia is 
not human trafficking, but sexual assault, as there has been 
a dramatic increase in the number of reported rapes, both by 
fellow villagers and family members.  PolOff met with the one 
trafficking victim, "Srey Pov", who explained how she became 
victimized.  Twenty-year-old Srey Pov had been working as a 
manual laborer in her rural village in order to support her 
ill parents, when an female acquaintance from the 
construction site informed her that better paying jobs 
awaited them in Siem Reap.  Srey Pov asked her parents for 
permission to go, but they refused.  Nonetheless, she felt it 
was her duty to support her parents financially and ran away 
to Siem Reap with her acquaintance.  However, instead of 
finding work in a restaurant, Srey Pov found herself placed 
into a house where she was told she would receive guests. 
After three days, an affluent Khmer man came into her room 
and attempted to force himself upon her.  Srey Pov managed to 
fight the man off and found her way to the CWCC shelter where 
she hopes to receive vocational training and eventually 
employment so that she can fulfill her filial duty to assist 
her parents.  She refuses to contact her parents until she is 
able to provide them with financial assistance. 
 10.  PolOff discovered that Srey Pov had received information 
from various awareness-raising campaigns and was aware of the 
importance of safe migration practices, yet she explained 
that because of her desperate economic situation, she was 
willing to take the risk.  CWCC informed PolOff that it 
provides weaving and haircutting vocational training to its 
residents, from which they may be able to earn $1-$2 per day. 
 PolOff also visited a stone carving business, which had 
received trainee referrals from anti-trafficking NGO COSECAM. 
 The trainees explained that after finishing a 60-day 
training period during which they receive a small salary, 
they begin to receive a commission from sales and are able to 
earn $5-10 per day from their labor.  It is interesting to 
note that this private business initiative -- which receives 
no donor funding or technical assistance -- could possibly be 
the most successful example in Cambodia of a viable 
alternative for those vulnerable to and victimized by human 
The Government Response 
 11.  Deputy Provincial Governor Ung Oeun explained that the 
Prime Minister had issued a strict order to all provincial 
officials that significant efforts be made to combat human 
trafficking.  However, he noted that despite government 
actions, the trafficking problem persists.  The Deputy 
Governor explained that although Siem Reap town is affluent 
and developed, it is the second most impoverished province in 
Cambodia (following Pailin).  He explained that the Province 
had suffered from damaging droughts and floods over the past 
years, but that 2005 yielded a 60,000 ton surplus of rice. 
He believed that the population was particularly vulnerable 
to human trafficking during the low-yield years and hopes 
that the increased harvest, coupled with improved 
transportation and educational infrastructure  will reduce 
poverty and decrease the vulnerability of the local 
 12.  PolOff met with the chief of the provincial 
PHNOM PENH 00000661  004 OF 004 
anti-trafficking unit, Sun Bunthorn, who explained that his 
unit has observed increased numbers of tourists to the 
province and an increase in entertainment complexes, which he 
believes could create an increase in trafficking victims. 
Nonetheless, Bunthorn believed that the vast majority of 
commercial sex workers are adult women voluntarily working in 
the sex industry.  He reported that his unit conducted 10 
raids in 2005, removing 96 workers, two of whom were underage 
victims and one who was victimized by force.  Buthorn 
commented that his unit has faced difficulty in gathering 
sufficient evidence to obtain convictions, since most removed 
workers refuse to cooperate.  He also expressed his 
frustration of not receiving information from NGOs after 
workers had been removed and placed in their care.  Buthorn 
explained that it was impossible for his unit to understand 
trafficking trends, methods, and modes without additional 
information that NGO shelters are able to gather during the 
assessment of the victim. 
 13.  It is clear that the government's will to combat human 
trafficking has extended to Siem Reap Province and that 
provincial authorities are taking increased action.  Informal 
observation of commercial sex establishments is reassuring in 
that there do not appear to be blatantly underage girls 
available for commercial sex acts.  However, the danger 
exists that sexual slavery will be pushed much deeper 
underground and will require increasingly sophisticated 
approaches to combat it -- something that local police and 
NGOs currently do not possess.  It is also important that 
NGOs begin to not only seek cooperation with the 
anti-trafficking units, but also begin to provide assistance 
so that anti-trafficking units obtain a more complete 
understanding of the problem and can adjust their law 
enforcement approaches accordingly.  Awareness-raising 
campaigns appear to have reached broad audiences throughout 
the province; however, it is clear how the economic plight of 
the desperately poor does necessarily lead to behavioral 
modification.  End Comment.