Anti-Trafficking (ILL-)Efforts

Date01 August 2016
AuthorNatalia Szablewska,Clara Bradley
Publication Date01 August 2016
(ILL-)Efforts: The Legal
Regulation of Women’s
Bodies and Relationships
in Cambodia
Clara Bradley and Natalia Szablewska
Southern Cross University, Australia
Global imaginations on human trafficking have been captured by a robust mythology that
constructs the consenting Third World sex worker as simply a victim of trafficking for
sexual exploitation. This anti-trafficking discourse has influenced Cambodia’s legal
reform, which has resulted in an increase of abuse against sex workers and has denied
Cambodian women their right to marry foreign men. Despite evidence indicating the
diversity of the sex industry and its correlation to different levels of sex workers’
autonomy, decision-makers have failed to revise the anti-trafficking framework to reflect
the reality of the divergent lives of women who engage in sex as a livelihood.
Anti-trafficking legislation, Cambodia, human trafficking, professional girlfriends, prosti-
tution, radical feminism, sex work
Through traveling to other people’s ‘worlds’ we discover that there are worlds in which
those who are the victims of arrogant perception are really subjects, lively beings,
Corresponding author:
Natalia Szablewska, School of Law and Justice, Southern Cross University, Southern Cross Drive, Bilinga
Queensland 4225, Australia.
Social & Legal Studies
2016, Vol. 25(4) 461–488
ªThe Author(s) 2015
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/0964663915614885
constructors of vision even though in the mainstream construction they are animated only
by the arrogant perceiver and are pliable, foldable, file-awayable, classifiable.
Maria Lugones, 1990
The urban capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, is a transnational space in a new emer-
ging political economy. It is a place where traditional understandings of power, love and
sexuality are in a period of mass transformation, reacting to the effects of globalization
and an overwhelming desire to move on from the devastating atrocities committed dur-
ing the Khmer Rouge regime (1975–1979). Women, especially women who work in the
touristic ‘girly bars’, as they are known locally, are at the focal point of this transforma-
tion and conflict, as they negotiate their desire to accumulate economic and social capital
through the selling or trading of sex, intimacy and even love, whilst maintaining cultural
expectations of female morality.
Women who work in the girly bars are often viewed by
the Cambodian media and society simplistically as ‘prostitutes’ or ‘broken women’, and
thus find themselves subjected to an array of protectionist laws and policies enacted
under the premise of preventing human trafficking.
In this article, we will examine Cambodia’s anti-trafficking framework by juxtaposi-
tioning it against the dominant global anti-trafficking agenda with its leading influences
of radical feminism and faith-based groups. Through an analysis of the global and local
legal responses to trafficking we will demonstrate that the current anti-trafficking
response in Cambodia is not capable of preventing and protecting legitimate victims
of human trafficking whilst simultaneously upholding and promoting the autonomy and
rights of women. We argue that the anti-trafficking efforts in Cambodia – rather than
addressing the root causes contributing to human trafficking – have had the effect of
shuffling the problem around and, in fact, have reinforced gender stereotypes and exa-
cerbated gender inequality in economic, social and cultural domains. Addressing human
trafficking for sexual exploitation requires going beyond the mere ‘regulation’ of the
organized crime (which usually involves disincentivizing and prosecuting offenders of
criminal activities) to examining the linkages between (economic) exploitation and coer-
cive sex; and human trafficking is at the trajectory of these concerns (Miller, 2004).
As part of the evaluation of the legislative and policy developments addressing human
trafficking in Cambodia, the impact and influences of foreign powers must also be
assessed. Since the Paris Peace Accords in 1991, which marked the end of the Cambo-
dian–Vietnamese War and the deployment of the United Nations Transitional Authority
in Cambodia, and almost a quarter of a century later, United Nations (UN) agencies,
International Non-Government Organisations (INGOs) and industrialized nation states,
such as the United States (US), continue to influence the development of legislation and
policy in Cambodia by attaching conditions to aid funding. This has enabled foreign
powers to attain their own values and ideology to specific aid agendas, sometimes with
little thought to the local context. It is widely argued that foreign aid is chiefly a political
and hegemonic exercise that often benefits the donor more than the recipient (see, e.g.
Keo, 2014) and, as Gellman notes, ‘the imposition of Western visions of political and
civic participation through NGO funding is a serious problem in Cambodia today ...
the money often comes with an aid agenda that does not fit the complexity of Cambo-
dia’s post-conflict recovery process’ (2007: 9). The consequences of such should not
462 Social & Legal Studies 25(4)

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