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Secrets of the online Call Girl

Taing Rinith / Khmer Times Share:
This picture is recreated for editorial purposes. GT2/Taing Rinith

Go online on Facebook in Cambodia and you tend to see people, especially women, selling various products, from fashion clothes to body lotion, on their pages. The improvement in the access to the internet, especially social media, and smartphone technology, has opened doors for users to advertise their products and services. That also applies to the oldest profession in the world: prostitution. Taing Rinith documents the lives of the sex workers who conduct their business online. They may use fake names here, but their stories are true.

Last week, on a Facebook public group based in Cambodia with more than 80,000 members, one female member posted a picture of herself. She was scantily dressed; her face hidden behind a smiley emoticon.

“Who wants to have a good time?” she wrote in Khmer above the pictures. “I need money now. Inbox me now. For those in Phnom Penh only.”

Unsurprisingly, her post instantly grabbed a stream of attention from many male members: their comments asking how much she charges. I gathered my courage and sent her a message, pretending to be interested in order to arrange an appointment with her.

“It will cost you $35 for an hour. If you want it, you can come to my apartment in Toul Kork,” she replied, sending a Google Maps link to make it easy for me to reach her place.

I did go to her place; an apartment building located in a poorer part of the district. Lily, as she wanted to be known, is a woman who appears to be in her mid-twenties.

As I entered the room, she greeted me warmly before quickly asking me to take off my clothes. She said I needed to hurry because she had another “client” due. I confessed I was working for the press and my only wish was to interview her. Although ‘Lily’ refused at first, she eventually agreed under two conditions: I must not ask about her past and I had to pay for her time.

Lily was previously based at Wat Phnom, in the heart of the kingdom’s capital, joining the many other women in the same profession who look for their clients there. She used to earn about $500 per month but had to pay a third of her income to her pimp, “to protect me”.

“At Wat Phnom, I was worried every day about police raids,” she revealed. “Plus, it was very hard to get clients.”

A Facebook “ad” of a Khmer girl saying she needs money and is available for services in Phnom Penh. Facebook

When a friend introduced her to the idea of bringing the business online, Lily’s earnings quickly increased. She was soon sometimes making as much as $2,000 per month.

“All I needed to do was to create a page and constantly update my pictures to look for clients. Men are always looking for our services,” she explained.

Lily added that most of her clients, ranging from high-school boys to retirees, are too shy to go to brothels or afraid that someone could recognise them.

“Of course, I’m not proud of what I am doing, but it is a matter of supply and demand,” Lily admitted. “I am a working girl.”

“Thida” is another Phnom Penh-based sex worker who relies on Facebook and Bigo Live, a popular social video streaming app, to make a living. Despite making about $600 a month, the divorced mother finds it hard making end meets, having to support her elderly mother, too.

“These apps have helped me a lot, especially the filters to beautify your face and make your skin clearer,” Thida said. “Men are only interested in these physical features.”

“Not all men who inbox me want my service. Some of them are lonely men who simply want to talk about sex because they cannot afford it,” she added. “There are also psychos who send me dick pictures and ask me to have sex with them for free.”

Despite the money they make, both Thida and Lily, in common with most of their colleagues, face very real risks. Dealing with complete strangers every day is unpredictable and potentially dangerous.

“Once a man paid me $150 to spend a whole night with him at his apartment,” Lily recalls. “When I got there, there were six men waiting for me. They would not let me go unless I had sex with them all. I had no choice, but I guess I was lucky that they all used condoms.

Recalling another incident, she said, “One of my clients secretly filmed me with his smartphone while we were making love and shared the video with his friends. It eventually went public on a porn website.”

Both of the women could not ask for help from the police because their work has been outlawed by the country. Enacted in 2008, the Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation punishes the managing of prostitutes and the maintaining of a brothel, as well as the act of exchanging sex for money.

However, a 2016 UNAIDS estimate disclosed that there are around 34,000 prostitutes in Cambodia, many of whom are Vietnamese. Four years on, the figure may be substantially higher.

Ros Sopheap, the Executive Director of Gender and Development of Cambodia (GDC), says the criminalisation of prostitution only further victimises the sex worker.

“I called for the legalisation of prostitution in Cambodia because it is the only way to make it safe for the workers and protect them from all kinds of abuse,” she says.

“The concept of providing sexual services has been seen as something against the social norms and values of Khmer women,” she adds. “But it is the matter of supply and demand, which has not [yet] been accepted by the public and the government.”

Good Times 2 could not contact Keo Thea, Phnom Penh Police Chief of Human Trafficking, for comment.

Meanwhile, con artists have been exploiting the advanced technology and the increase in searches for online sexual services to their advantage. According to the victims, it’s common for the swindlers – pretending to be sex workers or their pimps –to ask the customer to send them the money first, through mobile banking apps and then to disappear without a trace.

“Once, when I tackled one of these fraudsters, he threatened to send the screenshots of our Facebook chat to my wife, after he had discovered my marital status on Facebook,” reveals a male victim, who asked to be anonymous.

Bearing all of this in mind, Ros Sopheap argues that a government body and proper legislation and regulation are needed to control prostitution in Cambodia, after it is legalised.

“Otherwise, both the workers and the clients shall suffer,” she concludes.

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