Despite however much I would like to consider myself a Cambodian insider, having lived here for two years, studying the language, working, and generally trying to take it all in from $1 street side congee to decadent meals at the 5 star hotels, I am still relatively green on the expat scale of things. At times such as this, I sometimes like to look back at the trove of articles we have in our archives. One of these is a 2012 Front Page article titled: “January Poll: Should Western embassy personnel hang out in hostess bars?” Not only did this gain a number of comments on the front page, it also generated 14 pages of discussion that has lasted up to this day, in this forum.
Little did we know throughout this entire time though, is that they were actually being paid to hang out in brothels. And not just the law enforcement/cop types, but Interns and a “conoff” (consular officer) were sent out to thoroughly “investigate” this underground scene.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to the original article, a few main points were brought up on why it may be a bad idea for U.S. Embassy personnel to frequent hostess bars, including because it looks bad and because it’s hypocritical and undermines U.S. embassy objectives in Cambodia.
On top of that, it discusses the U.S. government’s position that curbing the overall demand for prostitution helps to fight sex trafficking, as stated in the State Department’s published (and preachy) missive titled “Prevention: Fighting Sex Trafficking by Curbing Demand for Prostitution.” In this, the State Department urges all employers and governments to show “moral leadership” in “sending the clear message that buying sex is wrong.”
Six years before that publication, and our own poll, the U.S. Embassy sent a Chinese-speaking Pol/Econ intern and a consular officer of Asian descent to “survey” various “Phnom Penh sex establishments” posing as customers, including brothels with underage women. We know this because of this leaked 2006 internal cable from the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh to the embassies in China and Taiwan.
For those that are not familiar with U.S. government jargon, here are a few definitions to know while you are reading:
UNCLASSIFIED, FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY – This is the classification for the document. There are several levels of classification, to include “SECRET” and “TOP SECRET”. This memo would have been sent through the classified network, where it is legally required to print out the classification level on every email and document. By labeling it “UNCLASSIFIED, FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY” it informs the reader that they may share it with their colleagues (but not friends/family), that it does not require a security clearance to read, and that it may be left lying around unattended on their desks. However, as “FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY”, it may be protected from any Freedom of Information Act requests. Basically, any document that circulates internally within U.S. Government channels gets branded “FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY”, as a “cover your ass” and “just in case” procedure.
(U) / (SUB) – At the beginning of every paragraph on classified documents it is required to let the reader the level of classification that particular paragraph holds. This is because if there is one “SECRET” piece of information in a 100 page document, the entire document is marked “SECRET”. By labeling each paragraph, you let the reader know which paragraphs they may opening share or not. Here, (SBU) means “Sensitive by unclassified”, which is essentially State Department jargon for “For Official Use Only” (which is more of a Department of Defense term). In this cable, it’s merely interesting to see which paragraphs they deem more sensitive.
Poleconoff and emboffs – Political/Econ Officer and Embassy Officers.
Enjoy the cable, and please discuss if you think this is a good use of the U.S. taxpayers’ money to investigate what is seemingly obvious to any of the rest of us. Funnily enough, Khmer440 even wrote a Front Page article, Guide to Phnom Penh Nightclubs, mentioning many of the same karaoke night joints as the embassy was visiting – were they reading Khmer440 for tips?
“Typically shrouded behind legitimate businesses, Phnom Penh’s sex establishments catering to the Chinese operate relatively discretely. Generally, Chinese men come to Phnom Penh for business reasons, not for the purpose of sex tourism. Chinese clientele refrain from the low-end brothels used by average Cambodians, preferring karaoke bars and massage parlors that cater to the Chinese. Some of these establishments have girls suspected of being trafficked from Vietnam and increasingly from China; numbers of underage girls present are hard to estimate, but girls as young as 14-15 years of age are not uncommon. Debt bondage draws some Chinese sex workers to Cambodia. End Summary.
Chinese-speaking Pol/Econ intern and Poleconoff of Asian descent surveyed various Phnom Penh sex establishments posing as customers. Information was gathered by asking Chinese businessmen, hostesses, and managers about Chinese-speaking visitors to Cambodia, and how they factor into the trafficking for sex industry in Cambodia.”