States of Play: Sex work and sex workers under Cambodia’s Human Trafficking Law

Dr Larissa Sandy1

1Rmit University, Melbourne, Australia

Despite criminalisation under Cambodia’s 2008 Human Trafficking Law, sex work remains prevalent in the country. This paper argues that this is because sex work is an integral part of the social fabric of modern Cambodian society. Based on field work and in depth interviews with male, female and trans sex workers and entertainment workers and NGOs providing services to these groups in Cambodia, the paper explores contemporary shifts and changes in the sex and entertainment industries in Cambodia and considers how these changes have come about as a result of the new Human Trafficking Law. The paper traces current changes in the industry and sex work practices and draws clear connections between attempts to regulate the sex industry and transformations in contemporary sexual practices. It considers the consequences of the virtual collapse of HIV prevention efforts and the shifting focus from sex work to entertainment work. The paper explores the extent to which regulations determine the structure of the industry and the conditions under which male, female and trans sex workers operate, and clearly demonstrates how policies to combat human trafficking and regulate sex work shape both the structure of the modern sex industry and sex workers’ experiences.


Larissa Sandy is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Justice Studies at RMIT University, Australia. She recently held a Vice Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Criminology at Flinders University, and was a Teaching Fellow in the International HIV program at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (La Trobe University) and Research Analyst at the Australian Institute of Criminology. She has published widely on sex work and human trafficking, including numerous articles and other publications and is the author of Women and Sex Work in Cambodia: Blood, sweat and tears (2014).


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