Reducing the Risk of Sexual Gender Based Violence against Entertainment Workers in Phnom Penh
Cambodia established a legal framework to address Violence Against Women (VAW) by ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1992 and including articles protecting women against violence in its 1993 Constitution. Unfortunately, this convention has not succeeded at implementation level and in recognition of this failure, the four-year National Action Plan to Prevent Violence on Women (NAPVW) was launched in 2009, aimed at encouraging stronger implementation of the laws combating violence against women. Prevention of VAW has been central to this plan, as was the provision of effective support services to survivors by government institutions and development partners. Similarly in 2010, the new penal code supported these action plans by clearly defining rape and setting jail terms, as well as by criminalizing other types of sexual assault, including indecent assault, indecent exposure, and sexual harassment, and making their prosecution mandatory.
Despite these national efforts to increase prosecution of perpetrators of Violence against women and the services available to victims, there is still a low level of incident reporting and limited access for victims to assistance.
This is particularly true for women involved in prostitution. Women engaging in sex work remain especially vulnerable to violence due to the nature of their work and the stigma attached to it. Cambodian complacency towards violence against sex workers is driven by stigma against sex outside marriage, which obviously entertainment workers (EW) are involved in. Victims of violence have limited access to justice or support services due to this social stigma, disinformation, weak implementation of existing law and insufficient cooperation from the police.
In a survey of 284 EWs conducted by ACTED-PSF in July 2011, 53% reported having suffered abuse since they began working in the entertainment industry. A separate 2011 survey found that 21% of sex workers experienced severe physical violence and 27% experienced sexual violence. ACTED-PSF’s survey also highlighted gaps in the current system to address violence: EWs were most likely to experience abuse in their workplace (64%) and at the hands of one-time clients (42%), yet half of the EWs surveyed reported there was no warning system in their workplaces to prevent violence or stop it when it was occurring. Clearly, lack of awareness and information about resources for assistance is a primary impediment to victims who wish to seek help. Given the extent of violence that women working in these industries face, it is imperative that they, and the men who are potential perpetrators of violence, be engaged and educated to prevent future cases of SGBV through behavioural and attitudinal change.
The program also aims to engage police to diminish the risk of SGBV against EWs. A 2006 USAID study of 1,000 sex workers in Phnom Penh found that half of all women reported experiencing physical abuse at the hands of police, while one third were raped by police; trends which are confirmed by similar studies. Violence by police officers breeds mistrust towards government officials and is therefore contributes to the low level of reporting and attempts by EWs to seek assistance from government programs; Cambodia’s legal framework to prevent VAW cannot succeed as long as those responsible for protection are in fact perpetrating violence. For example according to the ACTED’ s 2011 survey, none of the Entertainment Workers surveyed who ever experienced sexual violence ever sought assistance from the police.
Moreover, although the legal framework exists, police are also often reluctant to investigate suspected cases of violence involving entertainment and sex workers due to negative perceptions of these women that perpetuate victim blaming. Engaging police will decrease violence against entertainment and sex workers, changing women’s confidence in law enforcement personnel and increasing the likelihood that acts of violence will be reported. Increased investigation and prosecution will serve to discourage future instances of SGBV. Engaging the police in using the referral system will increase the sustainability of the program and contribute to the better knowledge of the available services for victims.
Basing the proposed action on the experience gained through its previous interventions with EWs, ACTED-PSF will implement the proposed activities in Phnom Penh as this is where the majority of the country’s sex and entertainment workers are located. The proposed intervention will establish and test a model that can be replicated to other areas of the country where there are sizeable sex industries (e.g. Siem Reap and Battambang provinces).
Goal and Overall Objective
Goal: To contribute to the implementation of the National Action Plan to Prevent Violence On Women (NAPW) by fighting Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) against Entertainment Workers in Phnom Penh.
Overall Objective: Reducing the risk of SGBV against EWs in Phnom Penh through higher reporting rates of the cases and strengthening referral system for victims.
Fighting SGBV against EWs in Cambodia remains difficult due to the fact that a lot of existing cases of violence remain hidden and unreported, which perpetuates the status quo. This intervention aims at fighting SGBV through strengthening the system of reporting violence to the authorities and assistance providers (government and NGOs), and therefore improving the functioning of the existing legal framework. This in turn will be achieved through the following results:
- EWs have increased awareness of SGBV, their rights and the assistance available to victims
- Improved access of EWs to services available from NGOs and the government