Sexual Cultures in East Asia: The Social Construction of Sexuality and Sexual Risk in a Time of AIDS

By Evelyne Micollier | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6

THE BROKEN WOMEN OF CAMBODIA1

ANNUSKA DERKS

Sex work is not a universal or a-historical category (Kempadoo 1998:7), but involves a diversity of forms and actors, and it is subject to change and redefinition. An analysis of sex work should therefore consider the historical, political, economic, and cultural context in which it takes place. The context in which this paper on sex work is set is Cambodia. The unprecedented volume of the sex business in Cambodia is related to many different forces that have shaped the country after its opening up since the beginning of the 1990s. Yet, prostitution is not a new phenomenon in Cambodia. For a better understanding of the development of the sex industry in Cambodia, I will give a historical background to prostitution in Cambodia and will provide an overview of the diverse practices related to sex work in present-day Cambodia.

Pertinently I will pay attention to how sex work is perceived in the Cambodian context. Views on sex workers are closely related to ideals of what is proper behaviour for women and notions of sexuality as well as perceptions of ethnicity. The current attention paid to the trafficking of women and girls has raised the matter of the practice of prostitution in connection with the more common issues of choice and coercion in prostitution, which in the common perception are also related to the issue of ethnicity. Yet, individual experiences with sex work are more diverse and this aspect will be analysed through the various ways women and girls become involved in sex work, as well as by examining their working and living conditions.


A HISTORICAL OVERVIEW

Prostitution is not a recent phenomenon in Cambodia, although it has not always existed in the same forms or on a similar scale as it does nowadays. Lack of documentation regarding prostitution in the early history of Cambodia makes it difficult to delineate any clear picture. Although there is plenty of speculation about apsaras-the celestial beings adorning the walls

-127-

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