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Cambodia: Sex tourists seek virgins

Publish Date: 02 Jul 2004

Source: The Phnom Penh Post
By Liam Cochrane

A sex tourism researcher in Cambodia has found that over half the girls sold to "virginity seekers" in Phnom Penh had a foreigner as their first client, and overall condom use was as low as five per cent.

French NGO AIDeTouS coordinated four surveys in brothel districts, STD clinics and care facilities over the last three years. The results were released at a conference on trafficking, prostitution and AIDs at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Phnom Penh on June 28.

Frederic Thomas, an economist working for AIDeTouS, said 79 per cent of foreign virginity seekers were well-organized, mostly Asian sex tourists, and many believed intercourse with a virgin would rejuvenate them or even cure AIDs.

A survey among prostitutes in Siem Reap found one in four had seen a foreigner for their first client and 56 per cent reported having sex with at least one tourist every week.

"The demand from tourists and foreigners to satisfy their fantasies for virgins or to have sexual intercourse without condoms increases the number of children falling into prostitution," said Thomas.

An AIDeTouS survey of 25 children working at the notorious Svay Pak brothel district 11km outside Phnom Penh in 2002, found the average age for entering into the commercial sex trade was 12.9 years for girls and 12.3 years for boys.

Aarti Kapoor, legal advisor for anti-trafficking NGO Afesip, told the conference that more needs to be done to implement extradition laws for pedophiles and sex tourists arrested in Cambodia.

Meanwhile the debate over methods and findings of research into the number of prostitutes and trafficking victims continues, with Thomas Steinfatt releasing "A Critique of Afesip's Ivory Tower Approach" to research methods on June 26.

Afesip's Aarti Kapoor co-authored a challenge to Steinfatt's 2003 research, which estimated there were 18,256 prostitutes in Cambodia, of which 2,000 were trafficking victims, saying the figures were unreliable.

Steinfatt defended the methodology of his study, particularly his use of motodops as research assistants and criticized what he termed Afesip's "shotgun negative approach", saying it constituted a personal attack.

The scale of Cambodia's trafficking problem was not quantified in the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report released this month by the US Department of State.

Cambodia retained its "Tier Two" status, for countries that do not fully comply with international standards for the elimination of trafficking but are making significant efforts to do so.

Cambodia's neighbors, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam were all placed into a new category, the "Tier Two watch list", for countries with large or increasing numbers of trafficking victims, which have failed to provide evidence of their efforts to combat trafficking.

The TIP report praised efforts to step up arrests and prosecutions of traffickers, but said an ineffectual legal system and endemic corruption hampered the fight against the trade in humans.

"Cambodian Government officials and their families are reportedly involved in or profit from trafficking activities," the report says.

The annual report noted the arrest of three Americans who were extradited from Cambodia for crimes of child-sex tourism contained in the PROTECT ACT legislation, passed last year to deal with sexual offences committed abroad.

On April 26, Michael Lewis Clark became the first US citizen sentenced under the new law, but has appealed his eight year US jail term. He was arrested and jailed for one year in Cambodia based on the testimony of boys aged ten and 13, before being deported.

© 2004 The Phnom Penh Post