Cambodian sex workers have a say in Paula Stromberg's short documentary

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JournalistPaula Stromberg was in Africa investigating Ghana’s “witch camps” and other women’s-rights issues when her name was passed along to the Women’s Network for Unity (WNU) in Cambodia. She subsequently met with the 6,400-member union and produced a story outlining the negative impact of anti–sex trafficking laws on voluntary sex workers in the Southeast Asian country.

It might seem counterintuitive, but the message Stromberg communicated—her article was picked up by health and human-rights groups around the world—was clear. “This group of 6,000 workers is saying: ‘We’re adult; we’re freelance; we are not trafficked—let us feed our families,’ ” Stromberg tells the Straight. “ ‘And, yes, we all hate children- and women-trafficking, and, of course, please address that. But stop picking on us.’ ”

The problem, Stromberg explains, is that “half of Cambodia’s national budget comes from foreign donations and foreign funding”. The government, therefore, indiscriminately applies rescue policies dictated by aid organizations, churches, and other outside groups. “As usual, it’s far easier to go out and arrest women out of the parks than it is going to the brothels where people are actually enslaved,” Stromberg says. “USAID is one of the big organizations, and it tells the Cambodians: ‘Look, you need to arrest more people to qualify for the amount of money we’re giving you.’ ”

Stromberg adds: “That’s putting it in a very simplistic way,” but for a more nuanced view—straight from the mouths of the sex workers themselves—you could catch her short film (22 minutes), “Sex Workers Hurt by Rescue in Cambodia”, which the documentarist is presenting at SFU World Art Centre (2nd floor, 149 West Hastings Street, 7 p.m.), on Tuesday (October 9). Stromberg will be joined for the free screening by Pivot Legal Society’s Kerry Porth.

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