PHNOM PENH - Sex workers in Cambodia are routinely unlawfully arrested and taken by police to government detention centres where they face beatings, rape and extortion, a rights group said Tuesday.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that interviews with more than 90 female and transgender sex workers in capital Phnom Penh and three Cambodian provinces found they faced regular abuse by authorities.
"For far too long, police and other authorities have unlawfully locked up sex workers, beaten and sexually abused them, and looted their money and other possessions," said Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
"The Cambodian government should order a prompt and thorough independent investigation into these systematic violations of sex workers' human rights and shut down the centres where these people have been abused."
The group's 76-page report said police beat the prostitutes with their fists, sticks, wooden handles and electric shock batons and, in several instances, raped them while they were in detention.
All reported paying bribes or having money stolen by police officers, the report added, while they were held in dismal conditions.
The Cambodian government began prosecuting a new "Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation" in 2008 after years of pressure from the United States to clamp down on sex trafficking.
Since then authorities have conducted brothel raids and street sweeps, but rights groups complain the new law has in many ways worsened exploitation and HRW said police at times use the law to justify harrassment of sex workers.
"The government should go back to the drawing board - starting first by consulting extensively with sex workers and other groups - before continuing to implement the provisions which have been abused by police," Pearson said.