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Though she has never been to one, Srey Pov said last month that she believes life in a shelter would be worse than her life on the streets. She added that she would not be able to make money inside a shelter and believes that NGO workers lock women inside. Police have raped me in the grass and on the riverbank. They beat us…. Sometimes they pistol whip us because they want money or sex. For sex workers like Srey Pov and Sally, the inability to make money inside a shelter and a loss of freedom—real or perceived—are the biggest reasons to avoid the NGOs that have been set up to help them.
Some sex workers complained of missing their friends and wealthy customers. But the meals at the shelter were not delicious, rather terrible. Staff at the shelter were trying to educate me and change me to be a good girl. I hate that. Support is strong for getting underage prostitutes off the streets. But opinion is divided over how to help women who choose to sell sex. Some NGO workers say refusing NGO help and training leaves prostitutes in the path of routine abuse and physical and mental illness.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said he had never heard complaints of police officers abusing, assaulting, robbing or brainwashing prostitutes. A year-old woman from Takeo province, who declined to give her name, has been in and out of Afesip shelters over the last two years.
She said women and girls must notify NGO officials before leaving, adding that she did not believe that women were free to come and go as they please. Although monitors watch the women and tell them not to leave, she said security is so loose that she has been able to slip away three times. This time, however, she plans to stay the course, she said, adding that she has entered the shelter each time of her own volition.
The women, mostly victims of rape and domestic violence, said they understood the concerns of some sex workers about entering shelters but said they were unfounded. He said a government campaign could be used to shift the stigma of prostitution from sex workers to the men who visit them.