The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly increased the number of sex workers using online platforms to find work, as the restrictions implemented by the government on bars and nightclubs have affected the way they normally operate.
With advancements in technology and easy access to an internet connection, sex workers have found leverage to continue their work despite the global crisis. Most of them aim to attract foreign men in the country because they believe they can earn more from them compared to locals. However, very few foreigners have arrived in the country due to the pandemic.
Instead of waiting for the crisis to be over, these workers have utilised different dating and chatting apps in order to survive. Facebook, Instagram, Line, Telegram and Badoo are just some of the applications that are being used by sex workers to make their living.
Lala (fake name), a 24-year-old, has been providing sex services for one year now. According to her, she has to make a living to support her family. She has a sick grandmother who needs medical attention plus she is a single mother. Regular work, in a shop for example, only pays around $200 a month which is not enough to support the needs of her family. She has not completed her education so it is hard for her to get a high-paid job.
She said foreign customers are her priority. She markets herself by posting nude photos in chatting and dating apps. Her face is covered by her phone in her profile picture so only her body can be seen. Then, if the customer asks for pictures, she edits them with photo editing apps to make her skin even, whiter and prettier so customers will want her service. She starts with a price of $100 but sometimes the price is negotiated down to $70 or even $50.
Lala added that if she is lucky, she can earn almost $1,000 per month. However, she spends money on clothes, make-up and skin products to look her best in the market of sex workers.
She described the competition as a sex service girl as very high. “There are too many girls in one bar waiting for very few customers every night.”
On Tuesday night, a visit to some parts of streets 104 to 110 and neighbouring areas were seen to be densely populated with bar girls outside despite the government’s announcement of temporary closures of entertainment clubs two weeks ago due to new cases of COVID-19 in the Kingdom.
There are also foreign women currently in Cambodia who provide sex services in exchange for money. A 30-year-old African woman who goes by the name of Ady (fake name) confessed that she is badly in need of money. Being stuck in a foreign country in the middle of the pandemic, offering sex services was the only idea she had in mind so she could survive while staying legally in the country.
A teacher in her 30’s has also begun to offer sex services due to money worries, after the first school closures that were implemented in the middle of the year. She said that she is ashamed of what she is doing, however, survival is more important as she has a family to feed. Teaching was her only source of income. Instead of going hungry, she joined the world of sex workers to keep going in life despite the pandemic.
These three sex workers all have different backgrounds and different stories to tell, but only have one goal – survival. They set aside their fears of catching COVID-19 just to make a living.
Men have also been using online platforms to market themselves. Samei (fake name) aims to capture the attention of possible customers by writing on his profile: ‘Sex for older women’. People nearby can easily view him since it is set for public view. Unlike women, men are more careful about posting their faces in public while providing sex services. Mostly, they only show their body but cover their faces with emojis or their phones as they take a mirror selfie.
Transgender sex workers are also using the internet to sell sex services more frequently during the pandemic.
Bella (her profile name) could easily get attention with her naked profile picture. Her long straight hair and curvaceous feminine body makes it very hard to know that she was born a man. Some choose not to reveal this fact unless asked, while others prefer to tell customers straight away as not to waste any time, as they can receive negative reactions.
She prices her service at $70 for foreign customers. However, with the COVID-19 crisis, she fears not getting any customers since there are few foreigners arriving in the country.