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Sexual exploitation of children has tended to focus on girls. The majority of organizations and service providers for sexually exploited children cater to the needs of girls. However, boys are also vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Limited research has been done to determine the prevalence of sexual exploitation of boys, but what has been done suggests that the issue is worthy of more attention. This study hopes to provide a baseline of information about young men who are being sexually exploited in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. In gathering and analyzing data about these young men, the researchers hope to promote awareness about the sexual exploitation of boys as well as to develop effective programs to assist them.
In December 2010 and January 2011, surveys were conducted in Phnom Penh at 6 massage parlors employing males and advertising to a male clientele. There were a total of 45 surveys completed by young men employed as masseurs at one of the 6 locations. The survey used was adapted from a similar tool used with male masseurs in India. This survey was determined to be the most efficient and effective way to gain preliminary data in a field that had not previously been researched in Cambodia. Ethical guidelines were followed throughout the research process.
The results of this study indicate that boys and young men are vulnerable to sexual exploitation. There are a variety of factors that may attribute to a boy’s vulnerability for sexual exploitation. A lack of skills and job training may be a contributing factor to boys’ vulnerability. This study suggests that many of the respondents entered the massage What about boys?: An initial exploration of sexually exploited boys in Cambodia 5 industry because they lacked skills or training to get a different job. The educational levels of the respondents were above average with nearly half of the respondents completing the 11th standard or above. However, this education did not appear to provide them with the skills necessary to gain employment. When asked if they would be interested in alternative employment, even if it paid a lower wage than what they were currently earning, the majority of the respondents said they would consider taking or definitely take an alternative job.
This willingness to pursue other employment could be linked to the majority of respondents acknowledging their shame over working as a masseur. The majority of respondents had not disclosed their employment as a masseur to their villages or communities because they believed their jobs to be shameful and were embarrassed to tell others.
Additionally, the sexual health of respondents was of some concern. Traditionally, attention that has been given to sexual exploitation of boys and young men has focused on providing sexual health education and HIV/AIDS prevention. One-‐third of the respondents identified some symptoms of illness, which suggests that not enough is being done to educate and support the health of these young men. However, there are other supports that need to be offered to these young men in order for them to be supported holistically.
The respondents were given an opportunity to share about their future goals and plans. The majority expressed a desire to pursue alternative employment. They had goals such as owning a business or working as a hairdresser. Most of the respondents planned to save money in order to achieve their future goals, but they may need additional support in order to gain job skills.
Future research needs to be conducted to better understand the issue of sexual exploitation of boys. Understanding the ways in which masseurs are recruited to work in the industry as well as the backgrounds of those working in this industry may provide a basis for developing more effective prevention and support programs for these young men. Assistance programs, such as those provided by First Step, are being developed to assist boys who suffer sexual abuse. Additional research is necessary to determine the types of alternative employment that appeal to these young men and what kind of support is needed for them to pursue these alternatives. Anthropological research into the cultural practices that may make boys vulnerable would be helpful in discovering how boys can be protected from sexual exploitation.
From an organizational perspective, there are several recommendations for promoting the overall health and well-‐being of sexually exploited boys. The sexual health of these boys is of concern. The research team made contact with a well-‐known organization, which was partnering with other organizations to provide sexual health education and services to these young men. However, one-‐third of the respondents acknowledged symptoms of illness, suggesting that more support is needed in this area.
Alternative employment and job skills training programs are needed for these young men. It is essential for organizations to work collaboratively in order to provide training to these young men. It is also important to consider the preferences of these young men. They should be consulted as to their preferences for jobs and should be treated individually with dignity and respect.
Further, it is recommended that greater attention be placed upon the prosecution of perpetrators of sexual exploitation of boys. This is especially true for local Cambodian perpetrators. The majority of perpetrators of sexual exploitation of boys are local Cambodians, yet more attention has been given to the prosecution of foreign perpetrators. In order to protect all children, perpetrators of sexual exploitation, regardless of nationality, must be prosecuted.