“Welcome to the
Welcome to the Year 2000
Welcome to Kampuchea
It’s not just live video chat
It’s an international experience”
Greeting on the Rape Camp Web Site
paper will present an overview of the global sex industries, the
trafficking in women and children, and the Internet sex industry in the
context of prostitution in Southeast Asia. The economic policies and
practices that tolerate and protect the sex industry and promote free
trade on the Internet will be discussed as they relate to aspects of
global sexual exploitation. The paper uses the case of an Internet web
site called “The Rape Camp” from Cambodia to structure an
exploration of the nature, prevalence and normalization of sexual
exploitation in the Mekong sub-region, and its promotion globally on the
The Rape Camp Case
October 1999, an American living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia announced that
he was adding a live bondage sex show to his Internet site (Deutsche
Presse-Agentur, 14 October 1999). His
pornography web site, “Rape Camp,” featured “Asian sex slaves”
who were used for “bondage, discipline and humiliation.” The women
on the web site were blindfolded, gagged and/or bound with ropes while
being used in sex acts; some had clothespins clipped to their breasts (Xinhua
News Agency, 8 November 1999). Viewers were encouraged to
“humiliate these Asian sex slaves to your hearts content” (Welcome
to the Rape Camp, March 2000). Expanded service was to feature live
interactive Internet transmission of bondage sex shows from Cambodia
with pay-per-view access in which customers could relay requests for
torture that would be fulfilled within seconds (Deutsche
Presse-Agentur, 14 October 1999). The fees were US$15 for 10
minutes, US$40 for 30 minutes, and US$75 for 60 minutes (Fees to see
Asian bondage, March 2000).
pornographer justified his venture in sexualized torture by saying, “I
wanted a niche that I knew would sell” (AP World News, 22
October 1999). He explained, “There is a big market in the U.S. for
Asian women. … And when I start making money, I’ll pay 10 percent in
taxes. If I’m successful, I could get a lot of other guys doing it and
get a lot of tax revenue” (Associated Press, 14 October 1999).
He told the English-language newspaper Cambodia Daily that women were the “biggest asset to export to the
U.S.” (Agence France Presse, 7 November 1999). His web site
also promoted prostitution tourism to men visiting Cambodia.
an effort to avoid problems with local residents and officials, Sandler
used Vietnamese women instead of local Khmer women for his web site (Agence
France Presse, 7 November 1999). He claimed the women were not
harmed or forced to perform the sex acts and were paid US$20 each (AP
World News, 22 October 1999). He rationalized his “Rape Camp” by
saying, “They’re selling these women anyway in prostitute houses,
where they have to have sex with 10 men a day and get AIDS” (Agence
France Presse, 7 November 1999).
dismissed the contention that his “Rape Camp” web site would
increase violence against women in Cambodia. “I have nothing against
women here.” He explained, “It’s not being marketed to this
community” and since few Cambodians had Internet access they weren’t
likely to see it. If his sexual
bondage show caused violence against women in the United
States -- the community of the target
audience -- that was acceptable, even desirable. “It might
promote violence against women in the United States, but I say,
‘Good.’ I hate those bitches. They’re out of line and that’s one
of the reasons I want to do this … I’m going through a divorce right
now. … I hate American women” (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 14
the pornographic web site came to the attention of the Cambodian
Minister of Women’s Affairs, Mu Sochua, she called for the
pornographer’s arrest saying, “It’s an act against the dignity and
value of Cambodian women and children. … We see this as an act of
violence against women” (AP World News, 22 October 1999). She
called for him to be charged with violating a Cambodian law prohibiting
sexual exploitation and trafficking of women. Prime Minister Hun Sen and
the Minister of Justice supported her. Dan Sandler, 35, from Ashland,
Oregon was arrested.
officials discussed banning the web site, citing laws that protected
Cambodian culture. “He is a disgusting person who made Cambodia look
bad,” commented the Phnom Penh Deputy of Police Chief Bit Kimhong. (Agence
France Presse, 7 November 1999). News reports of the incident
expressed fears that “the government may go further and consider
draconian legislation to monitor and censor the Internet” (Agence
France Presse, 7 November 1999). But even after Sandler’s arrest
in Cambodia, the “Rape Camp” web site remained on the Internet,
located on a computer server in the United States. [i]
Sandler faced up to five years in jail in Cambodia for violating the law
on human trafficking and sexual exploitation, United States officials
intervened with the Cambodian Interior Ministry to assist him. U.S.
officials arranged that he not be prosecuted, but deported. Sandler’s
passport was stamped by Cambodian police to ban him from returning (Xinhua
News Agency, 8 November 1999). U.S. officials accompanied him to the
airport and the U.S. Embassy had no comment (Agence France Presse,
7 November 1999). [ii]
of the women were interviewed. No information about their well-being,
experiences or wishes was included in the news stories.
Herrod, identified as an “American aid worker who played a major role
in bringing the Internet to Cambodia” said, “Here we are at a time
when there is a growing civil society, a serious problem with domestic
violence, and we’re at the point of discussing legalization of
prostitution as a way of controlling and protecting the rights of women,
and now we’ve got somebody from outside Cambodia trying to introduce a
new method of exploitation” (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 14
Sex Industries and the Trafficking in Women
A transnational growth industry
in sexual exploitation
the last three decades, prostitution and pornography have been
increasingly tolerated, normalized and legitimized, resulting in
expansion of sex industries all over the world. Sexual exploitation has
become a transnational practice whereby women and girls are physically
conveyed from sending countries through transit countries to receiving
countries, where men use them in legalized or widely tolerated sex
businesses, and men physically travel around the world to buy women and
children in prostitution, as a form of tourism. Through recently
developed global communications technology, these forms of sexual
exploitation are now carried out through phone lines and satellite
Prostitution and pornography have long been extremely profitable for
organized crime and corrupt officials. They have been tolerated for so
long they have become entrenched in many countries. Increasingly, the
income from the sex industries has outweighed the abuse and exploitation
of the women and children and enabled aggressive lobbying for official
recognition and legalization of the sex industry. Currently, a number of
international organizations are calling for recognition of the sex
industry as a legitimate economic sector. A recent report by the
International Labor Organization said that prostitution and pornography
commercial sex sector that is integrated into the economic, social and
political life of these countries. The sex business has assumed the
dimensions of an industry and has directly or indirectly contributed in
no small measure to employment, national income and economic growth. The
organizational structures and relations within the sex sector have
become very diversified and complex. They involve a growing number of
vested and powerful interests and networks of dependencies” (Lim,
and de jure and de facto legalization of prostitution and
pornography have increased men’s demand for women and girls to be used
as sexual entertainment or acts of violence. The demand is met by
increased recruitment of women and girls into the sex industry, usually
by violence, deception or exploitation of those made vulnerable by
poverty, unemployment and prior victimization.
United Nations estimates that one million women and children are
trafficked each year for the purpose of sexual exploitation (Xinhua
News Agency, 21 September 1999). The methods used in trafficking for
sexual exploitation comprise a modern slave trade (Leidholdt, 1998). The
perpetrators range from loosely connected procurers and pimps to
transnational organized crime networks. The value of the global trade in
women and children as commodities for the sex industry is estimated to
be seven billion dollars annually (Xinhua News Agency, 21
September 1999). The trade in women is relatively low risk activity for
procurers, who reap high profits compared to other illegal trade
activities, such as drugs and arms, making it increasingly the preferred
activity of organized crime (Associated Press, 23 February 2000).
the actual revenue generated by the sex industry is difficult. Some
figures refer only to the legal sector of the sex industry, the smallest
portion, and don’t include the money made illegally through the sale
of women in brothels, massage parlors and on the street, or the sale of
illegal materials, such as child pornography. According to one estimate,
the sex industry makes at least $57 billion a year, internationally (Morais,
14 June 1999).
Prostitution in the
the Mekong sub-region of Southeast Asia, comprising all or parts of
Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand and Vietnam, the sex
industry has expanded or contracted, depending on the demand for women
and children in prostitution and policies of those controlling the
country. In Vietnam and Thailand, the sex industry grew and flourished
due to demand mainly from U.S. troops fighting in the Vietnam War (also
called the Indochina War and the American War in Vietnam). In Cambodia,
prior to 1975, women were readily available to those with money,
especially foreign men brought there by the wars in Vietnam, Laos and
Cambodia (Swain, 1995). For some men, being in Southeast Asia meant
adventure and opportunity to engage in previously restricted practices,
such as drugs and prostitution.
is a kind of jailbreak which we welcomed for its freedoms and lifting of
every kind of taboo. …[T]he war also provided us with a certain
freedom, which is why we liked being there. We felt we had broken loose
and were accomplices in an escape from the straitjacket of ease and
staid habits” (Swain, 1995:27, 37).
the United States retreated from a ruined Southeast Asia, in Thailand
the pimps found another market for the women and children in
prostitution tourism, and the sex industry became a significant part of
economic development, while in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, armed
conflict continued and under communist rule prostitution was suppressed.
In Cambodia, the Pol Pot regime emptied the cities, forcing the entire
population onto agricultural communes. From 1975 to 1979, an estimated
one-quarter of the population of Cambodia was murdered or worked and
starved to death under the Khmer Rouge (Szymusiaak, 1999). In the work
communes, prostitution was explicitly banned. Posted signs stated, “No
prostitution,” followed by the warning that anyone who disobeyed would
be killed (Mydans, 15 April 1998). In
1979, Vietnam invaded Cambodia and until the Vietnamese withdrawal in
1991, prostitution was suppressed.
the 1990s, two factors contributed to a resurgence of prostitution in
Cambodia ‑ the arrival of United Nations peacekeeping troops and
economic liberalization. In Cambodia in 1990, there were an estimated
1,500 women in prostitution. The arrival of 10,000 UN peacekeeping
troops and civilian administrators of the United National Transitional
Authority of Cambodia (UNTAC) in 1991 created a demand for women and
girls in prostitution, and the numbers sharply increased. During this
time, many women and girls from the countryside were domestically
trafficked into cities to meet the demand for women in prostitution. By
1993, when the UNTAC withdrew, 20,000 women and girls were in
prostitution. Following the withdrawal of the troops, the numbers fell
to 17,000 (UNICEF-Cambodia, 1996). With
economic liberalization came an influx of predatory entrepreneurs and
increased forms of sexual exploitation. The numbers of women and girls
in prostitution climbed again, so by 1996, an estimated 57,000 women and
girls were in prostitution in Cambodia, with 70 percent of them in the
two largest cities-Phnom Penh and Battambang (Kang and Phally, 1995:3).
prostitution is common in Cambodia. Approximately one third of all women
or girls in prostitution in Cambodia are under age 17. One study counted
2,291 underage girls in prostitution, some younger than 12 years of age
(Business News Review‑‑Cambodia, 12 July 1999).
Another report claims that there are 16,000 girls in prostitution who
are under age 18 (Cochane, 10 November 1999). Throughout the decade of
the 1990s in Cambodia, the age of girls in prostitution steadily
declined. In 1992 the youngest known girls in prostitution were 18, but
one year later, in 1993, 15 year olds were found in prostitution
(Cambodian Women’s Development Association, 1992 and 1993). The next
year, in 1994, a survey found that 35 percent of women and girls in
prostitution were under the age of 18 and some were as young as 12 years
of age (Cambodian Women’s Development Association, February 1994). By
1995, another survey found that approximately 31 percent were under age
17 (Kang and Phally, 1995:3).
US$20 million is spent on buying women and girls in prostitution each
year in Cambodia (Bernama, 1 December 1999). The women and girls
are sold to seven to ten men per day and seldom allowed to keep any of
the money. Girls in these circumstances are frequently beaten and forced
to take drugs. The brothel owners earn an average of US$3,300 a month
from each girl (Hong Kong Standard, 30 November 1998). Poverty is
often cited as a cause of prostitution. Although poverty is a
significant factor compelling women into prostitution or making them
vulnerable to procurers and traffickers, poverty doesn’t seem to
interfere with men buying women in prostitution.
Vietnamese women in
prostitution in Cambodia
accommodate the sex industries of Southeast Asia, the trafficking in
women and girls is increasing rapidly in the Mekong sub-region of
Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. It is estimated
that several hundred thousand woman and children have already been
trafficked (UNIFEM - East and South East Asia, 23 September 1999).
Centrally located Cambodia is a sending, receiving and transit country
for transnational trafficking in women in the Mekong sub-region
(International Organization for Migration, January 2000).
one-third of the women and girls in prostitution in Cambodia are from
Vietnam (Dunn et al., May 1995). In 1998 a report by the World Human
Rights Organization and UNICEF estimated that one-third of the 55,000
women in prostitution in Cambodia were under age 18 and most were
Vietnamese (Associated Press, 25 April 1998). There are
increasing numbers of Vietnamese children trafficked to Cambodia to meet
child sex abusers’ demand for younger girls and men’s demand for
younger girls they think are less likely to be infected with HIV
(International Organization for Migration, January 2000).
study conducted in 1996-1997, found that there are 14,725 women in
brothels, 81 percent of them Khmer, 18 percent Vietnamese and 1 percent
from other countries (Human Rights Commission, 1998). According to
another source, in 1994 there are 13,000 women in prostitution in five
provinces that were surveyed, of which 7,050 were Vietnamese (UNIFEM,
indicated that he used Vietnamese women on his “Rape Camp” Web site
instead of Khmer women, because it was more permissible to exploit
Vietnamese women. There is historic prejudice and discrimination against
Vietnamese in Cambodia as a result of military conflicts between
Cambodia and Vietnam and the occupation of Cambodia by the Vietnamese in
the 1980s. In Cambodia, there are ethnic Vietnamese who are citizens of
Cambodia. Vietnamese women and girls are also trafficked from Vietnam to
Cambodia to be used in the sex industry.
have been law enforcement efforts to stop the trafficking of women and
girls to Cambodia. Between September 1995 and April 1998, the southern
border guards in Vietnam discovered 121 cases of child trafficking. They
arrested 186 traffickers and freed 281 victims, including 31 who were
under age 16 (Associated Press, 25 April 1998).
Northern Vietnam in 1997, there were two prominent cases of trafficking
of women and girls. In one case, a seven-member gang of Vietnamese
traffickers was arrested in Hanoi for trafficking women for prostitution
to Cambodia. They had trafficked at least 26 women to brothels in Phnom
Penh, where they were paid US$350-750 for each woman. Sixteen of the
women returned to Vietnam after they escaped or their families paid
ransoms. In 1998, the leaders of the gang‑a husband and
wife‑were sentenced to 18 and 20 years in prison, respectively (Deutsche
Presse Agentur, 6 April 1998). In another case, 17 people were
arrested for trafficking women for prostitution from Ho Chi Minh City,
Vietnam to Cambodia (Nando Net, 22 July 1997). Also, for many
women and girls from Vietnam, Cambodia is only a transit country, from
which they will be trafficked to other countries such as Thailand.
tourism is a form of international entertainment for men on vacations or
business trips. In Southeast Asia, after the withdrawal of U.S. troops,
the pimps needed a new market for the women and girls. They started
advertising their services to foreign businessmen from Germany and
Japan. Also, the development of the tourist industry supported
prostitution as one attraction for foreign men. As the Internet
developed, it became a forum to advertise the tours and services.
Organized prostitution tours from the U.S. started appearing on the Web
in Spring 1995.
Sex Industry on the Internet
A growth industry in the
technology is a significant factor in the globalization of sexual
exploitation. The Internet and other types of telecommunication, such as
satellite transmission, provide the sex industry new ways of marketing
and delivering women and children as sexual commodities to male buyers
(Hughes, 1999). As a rule, when a new technology is introduced into a
system of exploitation, it enables those with power to intensify the
harm and expand the exploitation. Using new Internet technologies,
images of women’s sexual exploitation are transmitted from local sites
anywhere in the world to computer servers in countries where
interpretations of laws protecting free speech and free expression
extend to any sexualized images, including acts of violence against
women, and from there, transmitted upon request to any place in the
world that has an Internet connection.
U.S. is the country mainly responsible for the industrialization of
pornography and prostitution, either in the U.S. or in prostitution
centers created by the demand from U.S. military personnel. The U.S. is
also the home of the Internet pornography industry. Pornography has
always been a high profit industry. In 1996 Americans spent more than
US$9 billion on pornographic videos, peep shows, live sex shows,
pornographic cable programs, pornographic magazines and computer
pornography (The Guardian, 26 November, 1997). That amount is
more than many other entertainment industries, such as film, music, and
the Internet became increasingly commercialized and available to the
public, the sex industry quickly moved to the Internet. This new forum
provided pornographers access to global audience with almost no
restrictions or regulations. It provided men, who are usually secretive
about their exploitation of women and children, with easy, private
access to unlimited amount of pornography.
connection between the sex industry and Internet technology enabled the
Internet industry to grow. The sex industry developed many of the ways
of doing business over the Internet. Privacy and security measures, fast
payment transactions, and web databases were developed by the online sex
industry. Over the past six years, the sex industry ad the Internet
industry have been linked in their expansion and development. Sex
industry sites on the Internet draw a lot of traffic and are highly
profitable. By early 1998, Internet industry analysts estimated that the
sex industry revenue from the Internet alone was US$1 billion per year (Seattle
Post-Intelligencer, 28 August 1998). Forrester Research reported,
“We know of at least three sites doing more than US$100 million a
year” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 28 August 1998).
1999, the market research firm, Datamonitor reported that “adult
content” sales on the Internet (which excludes revenues from the sales
of merchandise or advertising) was nearly US$1 billion dollars, and
comprised 69 percent of the total Internet content sales (Moore, 26 May
1999). Eighty-four percent of the content sales were from U.S.-based Web
sites. Datamonitor, predicted that by 2003 the “adult content” sales
would reach US$3.1 billion, about one half the anticipated revenue of
online content sales (Moore, 26 May 1999). Established sex industry
sites can expect to make from 50 to 80 percent profits (The Guardian,
14 May 1998).
the end of 1999, sex industry Internet subscriber sites represented the
single largest segment of e-commerce on the Internet (Business
Newswire, November 1999). There are approximately 40,000
individually run operations on the Internet. Intense competition among
these sites has led many operators to attract buyers by supplying new
material and more extreme images, such as bondage, torture, bestiality
and child pornography.
Creating a market driven
medium with no governmental regulation
United States set the policy for the commercial development of the
Internet. Ira Magaziner, referred to as the “spiritual father of the
Internet,” was the Senior Advisor to the President of the United
States for Policy Development from 1993 to December 1998.
He coordinated the U.S. government’s strategy on electronic commerce
and the growing digital economy. He successfully advocated for a free
market policy toward commercial development of the Internet, in which
the private sector took a leadership role in developing and regulating
the Internet, while the government took “a conservative approach” so
as to “not harm” the growth and commercial development of the
Internet (Magaziner, 10 September 1999).[v]
Magaziner claimed that the lack of governmental interference in the
growth and development of the commercial Internet has given rise to 50
percent of the economic growth of the U.S. economy in the past 7-8 years
and propelled the U.S. economy into its present period of low
trumpeting the economic success of the Internet, he did acknowledge a
few side effects, such as violations of privacy, “parents’ problems
with children, content problems and law enforcement.” In choosing how
to handle the commercial growth of the Internet, Magaziner successfully
advocated for the Internet to become a “market driven medium, with no
governmental regulation.” Because the Internet is a decentralized
medium he claimed it would be impossible to censor it, so it was better
to not interfere at all. His attitude toward the problems associated
with lack of regulation, such as undesirable content and lack of
protection of privacy and children, is that government should,
“Empower people to protect themselves.” He states that parents need
to be “empowered to protect children” from harmful content, such as
sex industry sites, because “the government can’t be involved” in
this role (Magaziner, 10 September 1999).
it is not publicly stated, the U.S. government clearly adopted a policy
of non-interference with the sex industry to enable it to be the pioneer
of online commerce. Part of the decision of non-interference is
reflected in the decrease in Federal prosecutions of violations of
obscenity law. Since 1993, there has been a steady decline in the number
of obscenity prosecutions. In 1993 there were 32 prosecutions; 1994, 27;
1995, 21; 1996, 19; and 1997, six. This drop is an 86 percent decline in
the enforcement of obscenity law.[vi]
Even the worst images, such as bestiality and torture have not been
of the sex industry in the United States think that the Clinton
administration is friendly to their activities. In 1998, Paul Fishbein,
publisher of Adult Video News commented, “It’s a great time to be an
adult retailer because sex sells and the consumer wants sexually
oriented material every day” (Roemhildt, 5 November 1998). David
Schlessinger, from Vivid Videos, the largest producer of pornographic
videos in the U.S. said, “President Clinton is a total supporter of
the industry, and he’s always been on our team. … It’s not that
Clinton has been outwardly supportive of the adult industry, but rather
that he hasn’t tried to quash it” (Roemhildt, 5 November 1998.
“Rape Camp” was a small-scale operation. Already much larger
businesses are selling live sex shows in the unregulated environment of
the Internet. For example, one of the largest companies selling live sex
shows Private Media Group, which operates by satellite out of Barcelona,
Spain. It can broadcast to 1,000 simultaneous customer connections and
it has recently signed a contract with an encryption-enabled satellite,
so the content can be hidden (Morais, 14 June 1999).
wanted a niche that I knew would sell”
years “Asian bondage” has been a specialty market within hardcore
pornography. Much of the sexual attractiveness of themes in pornography
is the portrayal of racist and sexist stereotypes (Russell, 1993).
Men’s cruel domination of submissive Asian women became a
staple of pornography as it grew into an industry in the U.S. during the
1960s, the same period when U.S. troops sexually exploited, and at
times, raped women in Southeast Asia. Sandler’s “Rape Camp” was
designed to fit this market niche.
who seek to legitimize the sex industry acknowledge “niche markets”
and see them as a sign of diversification of the sex industry and even
sophistication of men’s preferences.
[sex] sector responds to the changing tastes and sophistication of
customers…. The arrangements for commercial sex have become more
diversified, to cater to specific market niches” (Lim, 1998:4).
broadcasting of the “Rape Camp” by live videoconferencing or live
video chat is a high tech niche in the online sex industry market. This
technology enables live person-to-person video and audio transmission.
The new Internet video technology was released in the late Spring of
1995 and by the end of the
year, it was delivering strip shows and live sex shows to buyers over
the Internet (White Pine and Cornell, 3 May 1995; Wired Online,
December 1997). One of its
early uses by sexual predators was the live transmission of the sexual
abuse of girls (San Francisco Chronicle, 23 October 1997).
using live videoconferencing can either watch the broadcast without
interacting or communicate and even direct the sex shows by keyboard,
telephone, or audio transmission. Due to the nature of the Internet, the
acts being videoed can take place across a city or on another continent
from the viewer. Live videoconferencing brought about the electronic
merger of pornography and prostitution to create online prostitution.
more customers having access to high speed Internet connections,
transcontinental transmission of live strip and sex shows in which the
woman responds to directives by men is a significant and growing
“niche” in the market. According to market research by the Internet
Entertainment Group, a producer of live sex shows for the Internet, the
buyers for live strip shows are 90 percent male, 70 percent living in
the United States, and 70 percent are between ages 18 and 40 (Rose,
“When I start making money,
I’ll pay 10 percent in taxes. If I’m successful, I could get a lot
of other guys doing it and get a lot of tax revenue”
claimed that he was just trying to help himself and Cambodia to get a
piece of the multi-billion dollar business in the U.S. and other
countries. He claimed his “Rape Camp” was a way to start a high tech
business and move into the mainstream (Deutsche Presse-Agentur,
14 October 1999). Building a nascent business on the sexual exploitation
of women and children is a common practice of individual Internet
entrepreneurs, poor developing countries and the Internet industry in
wealthy industrialized countries (Hughes, 2000). Many Internet
entrepreneurs first went into business on the Internet through
pornographic sites. Developing a tourist industry, including
prostitution tourism, has been the strategy adopted by developing
countries and supported by international financial institutions. For 20
years, new types of media technology owe their success to the sex
industry, as men bought new technology, such as videocassette recorders
(VCRs) in order access newly delivered forms of pornography.
Those calling for official recognition of the sex industry view the
growth of the sex industry as a profitable, legitimate and respectable
form of development for poor countries.
sex sector] is a significant source of foreign exchange earnings, with
links between the growth of prostitution as a highly structured
transnational business and the expansion of the tourist industry in
these countries, as well as labour exports from these countries” (Lim,
to the International Labor Organization, in Southeast Asian countries
income from sex industries accounts for between 2 percent and 14 percent
of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) (Lim, 1998:6). In Indonesia, money
generated by the sex industry is estimated to be between US$1.2 and 3.3
billion per year, or between 0.8 and 2.4 percent of the country’s GDP.
In Thailand, the yearly income from prostitution was between 450 and 540
billion baht (US$22.5 and 27 billion) or about 10 to 14 percent of the
GDP (Lim, 1998:10). Sex industries make a lot of money, most of it
illegally. Many governments look longingly at the money made in sex
industries and calculate how it could enrich them instead of organized
The Trade in Women and Children
from Men’s Perspective
“They’re selling these
women anyway in prostitute houses”
prostitution is illegal in Cambodia, it is widely tolerated. Selling
women and girls in prostitution is a common practice. Some families sell
young women and girls to brothel owners or procurers and traffickers,
others believe the traffickers will find jobs for them in the cities.
One survey found that 50 percent of women in brothels got there by being
sold (UNICEF-Cambodia, February 1994). Of those sold into prostitution,
45 percent were tricked or deceived by pimps and 55 percent were sold by
family members (40 percent), boyfriends (10 percent) or friends (5
percent) (Kang and Phally, 1995).
women and girls in prostitution is a common practice among Cambodian
men. Several sources report that 60 percent to 80 percent of Cambodian
men visit brothels on a regular basis (Agence France Presse, 7
November 1999). According to Dy Narong Rith, the vice-president of
National AIDS Authority in Cambodia, there are 20,000 to 30,000 men
buying women and girls in prostitution each day, and only half of them
use condoms (Kea, 9 September 1999). Men who buy women in brothels in
Cambodia include government officials, police and military personnel.
When Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of Cambodia, was confronted with this
information, he replied that he could not control what the officials did
when not at work.
men, such as high-ranking officials, often seek out the most extreme,
exotic or transgressive experiences (South China Post, 8 March
2000). In Cambodia, a virgin is considered the most expensive commodity.
The average price for a virgin girl is US$300-$700 (Hong Kong
Standard, 30 November 1998). Some men justify buying a virgin girl
as the best way to avoid AIDS. For the many children in prostitution in
Cambodia, being sold as a virgin to be used for a few days or a week is
their initiation into prostitution.
accounts by human rights groups have revealed that many women and girls
are literally enslaved in the sex industry. The men’s writings reveal
that they know, accept and exploit women and girls held in sexual
slavery (Hughes, 1996). Some prostitution tourists come to Cambodia
explicitly to buy and rape underage girls. One brothel that was raided
was selling virgin girls to wealthy foreign men. Twelve girls, most of
them from Vietnam, were rescued from the brothel (Agence France
Presse, 6 July 2000).
Photographs from the Cambodian Sex Industry Guide were posted on
Sandler’s web site and included scenes of spanking young women and
what appeared to be a scene from a gang rape‑‑multiple men
grabbing, holding and spreading the legs of a young woman. Sandler
justified his online “Rape Camp” by pointing out that since women
were being bought and sold in brothels, his venture wasn’t so
Men’s accounts of
their experiences as prostitution tourists
The “Rape Camp”
web site also invited men to visit Cambodia and gave advice for
in Thailand or SE Asia check out Cambodia. We are just across the border
and offer so much more. Unlike Thailand, if our prostitutes refuse your
advances you can beat them into compliance. And they just cost 5.00 per
hour. No rip offs here all beautiful ladies will BAM BAM. Not like
Thailand where they are over priced and ALWAYS try to get out of the
sex. Just slide your dick in real deep.... Hold still... Look deep into
her tearing eyes and see if you can feel an internal quiver. …. If you
need a good deal on air tickets to Phnom Penh please e-mail our company
here [Link to Dan Sandler’s email.]. We will find you the best price
available from our consolidation agents. On purchase of ticket(s) we
will e-mail you a Cambodian Sex Industry Guide which will recommend
brothels and give revealing insights into the institution of indentured
prostitution in Cambodia” (Rape Camp Web Site, March 2000).
newsgroups and Web sites became forums for men to report on their
experiences buying women and girls in prostitution from all parts of the
world. One man prefaced his own report by saying how helpful the
information on the Internet had been for his own trip to Cambodia:
about Cambodia on the www.paranoia.com site proved very valuable on a
recent trip I took there. The very-long "Southeast Asia diary"
of 9/29/96 was especially helpful. I thought I'd give something back by
adding to the canon, updating where possible and hopefully making the
trip a little easier for the next person” (Anonymous, February 1997).
One man’s report on the Internet describes a
typical scene in a brothel in Phnom Penh:
I get over to Street 63.… and start checking out the brothels.
Downtown these look like any other shop except that the metal security
curtain that would be drawn and locked at night is closed together with
about a two foot opening. When you walk in, it’s unlit and you start
talking to the mamasan and some of the girls. Others may be upstairs on
the overlooking second level loft” (Anonymous, 29 September 1999).
prostitution tourists who write on the Internet confirm the presence of
Vietnamese women and girls in prostitution in Cambodia. The following
excerpt is from a man’s visit to Angkor Wat, a popular tourist area.
“This place is full of taxi girls.
The girls here are tops. All night for $30. You can probably get it
cheaper but i [sic] didn't bother. So I took home a beautiful 20 yo
[sic] Vietnamese girl and shagged her 3 times and once more in the
morning before she left. She was great fun … Good Value. Plus it's so
much fun to show her off in front of the other earnest foreign travelers
at the hotel there to see the ruins. You can see the old men drooling
and the ugly white girls scowling. Haha” (dazzler, 15 December 1999).
Another man reports from Phnom Penh:
“I find mostly Vietnamese girls for sale, and after
a couple of stops, settle on one to take back to my hotel a couple of
hours for $10. She's 18 and has a beautiful smooth face, but she's a
little fat when I undress her, and has acne marks and scars all over her
body. I have her a couple of times, nothing spectacular, before sending
her off…” (Anonymous, 29 September 1996).
The following excerpts from prostitution tourists’ writings about
buying women and girls reveal their attitudes and practices.
should be $2-5 for an on-premises short time, depending on the girl’s
looks, how long she’s been there, etc.
I got two girls for $7 once. DON’T PAY IN ADVANCE and don’t
be bashful about sending her back if she doesn’t do as advertised or
there's some major attitude shift or other problem. I see that a lot
less often in Cambodia than Thailand, though” (Anonymous, February
a few minutes… I give in to their offers and choose one of the younger
girls to go inside for a $3 screw, the cheapest by far I’ve ever paid
for sex. Her face was cute, her eyes round, and her skin brown. I
undressed her and her skin was perfectly smooth all over. She had only a
few fine hairs on her pussy, and you had to get close to notice them. We
were in a partition not much larger than the bed, and beyond undoing my
pants, chose not to get undressed. I had her on the bed, and when I
finished, withdrew, and she removed my condom, dropping it to the open
ground between the floor planks. I buttoned up, paid my $3, and headed
farther up the road” (Anonymous, 29 September 1996).
men’s reports reveal their racist, misogynist attitudes and their
cruel treatment of the women and girls they bought on their trips.
unfortunately seems to often be the case with young, stunningly
beautiful girls (that know that they are so) they get very conditional
and particular. In this one’s case, although she didn't mind taking
off her clothes or having the lights on, she didn’t want to be kissed,
or have her nipples sucked, or just generally be handled. And had a
tendency to pout and turn away when you tried. In the end, I had her a
couple of times, at night and the next morning. But the longer we were
together the more she wanted to leave, and rather than hold her captive
(the agreement with her mamasan was I could have her until noon), I let
her go at 9:30, by then not caring much for her company either”
(Anonymous, 29 September 1996).
men who buy the women and girls in prostitution in Cambodia know that
the women and girls are commodities that have been sold, although it
appears to have little effect their decision to buy them, as indicated
by this man’s comment:
you should be aware that there is a significant problem with
“selling” and “buying” of girls for the houses/coffee shops in
Cambodia and let that affect your conscious in whatever way it will”
“I hate American women. I
hate those bitches … they’re out of line”
misogyny and promotion of violence against women knows no
boundaries—national, racial, on or offline. He said he hoped that his
“Rape Camp” bondage and torture service would incite violence
against women in the U.S. In fact, Asian bondage pornography does
promote violence. An anti-pornography activist testified in a public
hearing that Asian-American women reported to her that they had been
raped after the men told them had used pornography with Asian women
(Transcript, 16 March 1992).
Sander’s invitation for men to come to Cambodia as prostitution
tourists, he encourages violence against the white women there also.
the land of impunity. No stalking laws here. If you see some white bitch
doing aid work in the provinces.... it doesn't involve us. It is just a
foreign matter. Go for it! In our country a female must serve a man on
request. Go to the _____ Bar at ___ street. Most of the foreign aid and
NGO ladies are dirt broke. They will except [sic] a drink from anyone. A
motto driver told me that for 30 dollars they would slip a chick 10 tabs
of Ecstasy and drop the girl off anywhere you like. Rapecamp recommends
the trash pits a few kilometers from the _____. There is plenty of
bondage and forced encounters. You can make these girls do any
disgusting thing you like or want to try. If you want piss in there
[sic] mouths” (Sex Tourism Cambodian Style, March 2000).
Women’s and Girls’
Experience of Sexual Exploitation and Its Effects
“They have to have sex with
10 men a day and get AIDS”
to several reports women and girls in brothels in Cambodia have sex with
7 - 15 men per day (Indradevi Association, January 2000). In these
encounters and in the process needed to force the women and girls into
those sessions, the women and girls in prostitution are subjected to the
most inhumane abuses, such as beatings with wires and sticks, electric
shock, torture with acid, confinement in locked rooms, forced intake of
drugs, forced sex, even during menstruation or illness, surgical
procedures to restore the hymen to recreate “virginity,” rape by
local authorities and male brothel owners, forced household labor when
not being used in the brothel, beatings for non-compliance to rules and
demands of any sort, and lack of adequate food and rest (Human Rights
Task Force on Cambodia, 1995, Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, 1999).
The rooms the women and girls live in are narrow, dark, unhygienic, and
foul smelling. They usually are not permitted to contact their relatives
(Indradevi Association, January 2000).
for Human Rights conducted a study on the psychological harm to women
and girls in prostitution in Cambodia. Wendy Freed, author of report,
states that the girls and young women “endure the most serious
violations of human rights and daily face the risk of HIV infection with
no means of protection. Their very physical and psychological survival
is at risk” (Freed, 1997:1).
The trauma of prostitution is described.
trauma is unique from other forms of trauma. It is a violation of the
most intimate and personal aspect of the self. One’s own body becomes
the setting in which the atrocities are perpetrated. For the young women
living in a brothel, the sexual violations take place inside the tiny
cubicle that is their only private living space. There is no safe haven
for them. …When an individual has been beaten into submission, has
become passive and accepting of what is done to her because she is a
captive, then any sexual encounter she has is a rape. Even if she has
worked hard to attract the customer, because she has no right to
refuse consent, she is being raped. Women and children ….are
rendered helpless, they feel damaged and degraded, their trust is
betrayed, and their view of themselves and the world is altered”
women and girls in prostitution suffer the same effects as other
survivors of sexual assault and abuse. They feel shame for what was done
to them and often blame themselves, as if they are responsible for what
others have done to them. The Physicians for Human Rights study found
that the women and girls suffered in many ways.
of these young women reported depression, hopelessness, inability to
sleep, nightmares, poor appetite, and a sense of resignation. Many
appeared sad, subdued, withdrawn and ashamed. They suffer grief for many
losses: the loss of freedom, of childhood, of innocence, and of
virginity. They have lost a sense of safety, and of trust in the people
most important to them. …Many young women expressed high levels of
fear and anxiety. Their greatest fear was of beatings and physical
punishment by the brothel owners. The fear of HIV/AIDS was always
present” (Freed, 1997:27-28).
such as Sandler, and perpetrators who buy women and children usually
claim the women and girls consent to being in prostitution and even to
being tortured and abused. The claim of consent is also featured in
arguments for official recognition of the sex industry and legalized
prostitution. In her report, Freed describes the effects of captivity on
young women and girls and explains the behaviors that comprise what
appear to be consenting behaviors.
young women have been in captivity for a period of weeks to months or
years. Initially there is shock and disbelief. Many young women describe
not being able to believe that they had been sold. …Once they realize
that in fact they are sold, they fight the brothel owner’s demand that
they accept customers. Refusal leads to beatings, being locked in a
room, and going without food. This persists until the young women give
up and realize that indeed they are trapped and have no options. ...At
some point in this process, the young woman becomes submissive in order
to avoid further beatings and torment; her ‘spirit is broken.’ She
surrenders, becomes resigned and accommodates to the circumstances of
captivity. Autonomy, self-agency, control or influence over one’s fate
are no longer possible. …As people find the best way to survive, some
of the behaviors may raise questions if viewed out of context. For
example, the young women’s flirtatiousness, seeking out clients, and
getting clients to feel pity or love for them represent strategies aimed
at enhancing their survival. If they accept customers they will not be
beaten. If they bring in more income they may pay off their debt more
quickly. If they elicit pity or love from their customers, they will be
treated less harshly” (Freed, 1997:28-29).
“sex” that women and girls have in prostitution is really sexual
assault and rape with all the traumatic consequences associated with it.
The women and girls trafficked and sold into brothels must find ways to
cope with an average of 10 unwanted assaults each day.
Prostitution as a death
In addition to
ongoing trauma, for many women and girls, prostitution is a death
sentence. According to the World Health Organization, Cambodia has the
worst AIDS epidemic of any country in Asia (Agence France Presse,
2 December 1999). The epidemic has only been a decade in the making.
Prior to the 1990s, Cambodia was a closed country and prostitution was
suppressed. In 1991 the UN Peacekeeping troops arrived, bringing a more
open country and HIV. Prime Minister Hun Sen is quoted as saying the
UN’s longest lasting legacy in Cambodia was AIDS (Richburg, 14 August
Cambodian Ministry of Health Survey in 1998 found that 40 percent of
women in prostitution‑‑approximately 11,000 women and
girls‑‑were HIV positive (Business News
Review—Cambodia, 14 December 1998).[vii] The study also found that
20 percent of women who work in bars–‑“beer promoters”—who
often engage in prostitution are HIV positive. At the end of 1999, an
estimated 200,000 people in Cambodia were infected with HIV, and 50
percent of women in prostitution were HIV positive (Agence France
Presse, 2 December 1999).
women and girls from Vietnam are especially hard hit by HIV/AIDS. Fifty
percent of Vietnamese women being trafficking to Cambodia become
infected with HIV. In Vietnam, the spread of HIV is partially attributed
to thousands of HIV infected women returning to Vietnam from Cambodia (Agence
France Presse, 2 December 1999; Thao, 30 December 1999). Giang
Province in Vietnam has 13 percent of the country’s women in
prostitution. Approximately 20 percent of them are infected with HIV, a
rate four times higher than other regions. Most of the women in
prostitution in this region were formerly in Cambodia (Asia
Intelligence Wire, 18 January 2000).
is often the case, women in prostitution are blamed for the spread of
HIV. One news article described women in prostitution as “teeming dirt
alleyways and in the bars and brothels of Phnom Penh … at the
forefront of what health care professionals warn is an emerging AIDS
catastrophe unlike any seen outside of sub-Saharan Africa” (Richburg,
14 August 1998). Public attention is usually focused on the women as the
vectors of HIV/AIDS. Seldom is attention focused on who infects the
women or the role men play in spreading the virus.
accurately stated the situation for women in prostitution in Cambodia,
but he seemed to be implying that the women wouldn’t get HIV/AIDS from
the rape and torture acted out for his pay-per-view broadcasts. As is
often the case with pornography and especially pornography on the
Internet, there is a sense of suspended reality, as if normal laws of
nature don’t apply. Sandler said that women could get AIDS from being
in a brothel, but implied wouldn’t happen if the acts of prostitution
were being videoed and broadcast over the Internet.
Law Enforcement and
nationals held on sex related charges have so far bribed their way to
1992, Cambodia has had an anti-trafficking law, but it has only been
used in limited ways (Indradevi Association, January 2000). Corruption
and lack of political will seem to be the largest barriers. Brothel
raids frequently find enslaved women and girls (Business News Review,
26 April 1999). From 1998 to mid-1999, there were 72 police raids on
brothels, in which 57 pimps were arrested, 558 women and 135 girls were
rescued, of whom 442 were Cambodian, the rest Vietnamese (Business
News Review‑Cambodia, 12 July 1999). Occasionally,
perpetrators are tried under their home country’s law, as in 1998,
when John Arthur Lee, an Australian, became one of the first men
prosecuted under Australia’s anti-child prostitution tourism law. He
was accused of having sex with a child in Cambodia and possessing child
pornography following his eight-week visit to Cambodia in 1997 (AAP,
22 April 1999).
of police, military and politicians in Cambodia is a serious problem.
Many traffickers and brothels owners pay bribes to officials or
officials themselves are the owners of brothels. As a result of
corruption, police raids on brothels are often only for public show and
the women and girls rescued are returned to the brothel owners or pimps.
One woman reported that she was arrested three times by police, but each
time the pimp bought her back from the police. She reported, “When the
police arrested me, I didn’t get to go to an aid agency. They just
extorted money from us” (AAP, 5 March 1998).
pimps and officials seem to be able to buy, sell and even kill women
with impunity in Cambodia. In 1998, a powerful trafficker, brothel owner
and pimp in Poipet, Banteay Meanchey Province beat a young woman from
one of his brothels to death in front of twelve witnesses. After another
woman escaped and reported the murder, the owner, Meach Bunrith, was
arrested, but three months later was released and charges dropped
because of lack of evidence. Human Rights Watch investigated this case
and found that Bunrith is one of the biggest traffickers of women to
Thailand, with a network of procurers operating throughout Cambodia. He
also has powerful military backing and off-duty, but uniformed gendarmes
and soldiers work as armed guards at his brothel (Human Rights Watch,
1999). In February 1999, a national police official shot and killed a
waitress in a karaoke bar after she refused to have sex with him.
Although his identity was widely known, he was not arrested and many
expressed the belief that his high-ranking position would protect him (Deutsche
Presse-Agentur, 10 February 1999).
September 1999, following the arrest and deportation of over 200 illegal
immigrants from China, one high ranking official alleged that other
government officials were involved in human smuggling, although he
refused to name those involved (Reuters, 23 September 1999).
addition, perpetrators frequently escape arrest or prosecution. In 1999,
two men, one from England and another from Switzerland, arrested for the
sexual abuse of children bribed their way out of police custody and left
the country. Later the same year, Dan Sandler escaped prosecution for
trafficking and sexual exploitation charges through assistance from the
U.S. embassy. In July 2000 when a brothel where underage virgins were
being sold to wealthy foreigners was raided, no arrests were made of the
men or the owners of the brothel. And in June 2000, a Swiss man charged
with child sexual abuse was granted permission to live at home while
awaiting trial (Agence France Presse, 6 July 2000).
Hun Sen’s regime, corruption is reported to be systemic and Cambodia
has become a center for criminal activity. The result is pervasive
theft, money laundering and increased prostitution and trafficking of
women and children to and from Cambodia (Tith, 2 October 1998). Along
with the sex industry, human trafficking in Asia is a significant source
of money used in money laundering (Agence France Presse, 4
February 2000). Cambodia is a favored transit country for trafficked
women because forged identity documents and passports are easier to get
and less expensive than in other countries (Watkin, 3 October 1999).
addition to lack of police and political will to intervene in
trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and girls, a survey
conducted by the Cambodian National Council for Children in 1999 found
that prevention of trafficking was not on the agendas of most
non-governmental organizations. This inattention was attributed to lack
of initiative and resources and to the influence of powerful people who
controlled the sex industry (Business News Review‑Cambodia,
12 July 1999).
at the point of discussing legalization of prostitution as a way of
controlling and protecting the rights of women”
response to the rise in trafficking and the HIV infection rate, there
have been calls for the legalization of prostitution as a way to put
into place health regulations, regulate the trade and supposedly prevent
the most severe violence. In Cambodia, prostitution is illegal, but
corruption and tolerance mean that prostitution and trafficking go
unchecked, except for the occasional raid or intervention when an
extreme case cannot be ignored. Some officials oppose legalization, but
support tolerance and enforcement of health regulations (Fontaine, 3
August 1999). The main concern is the spread of HIV and protecting the
general health of the public.
rights and well being of the women and girls in prostitution are
frequently ignored. There is little evidence that legalization improves
the circumstances for women in prostitution. Most important,
legalization ignores the nature of what prostitution is, what men do to
women in prostitution and the consequences for women. There is evidence
that legalized prostitution in the Netherlands, Germany and Australia
has resulted in increased trafficking of women to meet the increased
demand for women in prostitution and an accompanying increase in
organized crime (Hirsch, 1996; Schloenhardt, 10 November 1999).
shocking as the “Rape Camp” was, an examination of numerous aspects
of the case reveals that these practices of sexual exploitation are
common in Cambodia and on the Internet. The most unusual aspect of this
case may be that Sandler was arrested. The cause of his arrest may have
been his lack of sophistication and discretion in discussing his
activities. He made the mistake of using the pornographic language of
the sex industry to describe his venture, instead of the more palatable
euphemisms, such as “adult entertainment,” “sex worker,” and
“entertainer.” He probably would be operating his “Rape Camp”
right now, if he hadn’t bragged about it to a local paper and got more
protection from corrupt local officials.
burgeoning Internet industry owes its success in no small part to the
sex industry. Consequently, it praises and protects it whenever needed.
The policy of non-interference with the growth of Internet commerce and
prevailing uncritical views on the sex industry are contributing to the
escalation of the global sexual exploitation of women and children. What
can be done to women and be transmitted over the Internet seems to have
no limits. The online sex industry is a negative product of
globalization, resulting from the intersection of free trade, high
technology, and the sexual exploitation of women.
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I want to thank the following people for providing
references and commentary on this paper: Wendy Freed, psychiatrist at
Harborview Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress, Seattle,
Washington; Mark Bonacci, Associate Professor, Social Sciences, Niagara
County Community College, USA; and Shyla Welch, PhD Candidate,
Communication, Regent University, USA who does advocacy for children and
families, focusing on Internet safety and exploitation.
[i] The Internet service
provider (ISP) that hosted the “Rape Camp” web site was
Hurricane Electric Internet Services, Freemont, California. After
his arrest and deportation from Cambodia, Sandler added more
misogynistic comments about women, especially the Minister for Women
Mu Sochua, who called for his arrest. At the end of April 2000,
seven months after Sandler’s arrest, “The Rape Camp”
disappeared from the Internet.
[ii] A source inside Cambodia
has reported that by Autumn 2000, Sandler had found a way to return
[iii] In this paper, I have
cited figures for the amount of revenue made from portions or all of
the sex industry from several sources. The figures are not
consistent with one another. I have used figures that come from
market research companies as most reliable, but it is difficult to
verify which figures are more accurate.
[iv] Ira Magaziner was referred
to as the “spiritual father of the Internet” at the Internet
Content Summit 1999 – a conference hosted by the Bertelsmann
Foundation in Munich, Germany, 9-11 September 1999.
[v] Ira Magaziner coordinated
an interagency team to implement the US strategy paper “A
Framework for Global Electronic Commerce,” which lead to a
declaration signed by 132 nations to refrain from imposing
regulations on the Internet that would stymie commercial
[vi] Although this decline
seems to clearly indicate a policy shift under the Clinton
administration, it should be noted that obscenity law has become
increasingly difficult to prosecute and get convictions due to the
construction of the law. For further analysis of U.S. obscenity law
see Catharine MacKinnon, Feminism Unmodified‑Discourses on
Life and Law, Harvard University Press, 1988.
[vii] The news article reported
that 43,000 women in Cambodia are infected with HIV -- 11,000 of them in the sex industry, but “THE
REST - 32,000 - ARE NORMAL WOMEN.” This sentence was the
only one in the entire news article that was in capital letters. The
news story pointed out that women were probably being infected by
their husbands. Still there is portrayal of women in prostitution as
not “normal women.” “Cambodia
penetrates the family. Three in four are normal women,” Business News Review (Cambodia), 14 December 1998.