AFTER listening to diners at the table next to hers speculate about how her father had found ‘such a young prostitute,’ Anya Minko snapped. “He’s my dad, you perverts!” she yelled.
Anya is half-Thai. Her father, Chris Minko, is white.
In Phnom Penh, a city renowned for sex tourism and almost weekly pedophilia scandals, many people are swift to connect the dots when they see a middle-aged white man with a young girl of Asian descent. Sex tourists are so common that the term ‘sexpat’ is commonly used throughout Southeast Asia.
“We’re victims of this sexpat cliché,” Minko said. “You can tell from the way people look at you. You’re eating peacefully with your dad, and you see people whispering and staring at you.”
Sometimes the criticism is subtle – like customers who fall silent and stare at fathers and daughters when they walk into restaurants. But often it is more overt, with vigilantes who photograph them while they walk along the Riverside threatening to report them to the police, or accusing the father point-blank of pedophilia.
Sometimes, NGOs who fight child prostitution even have informants stalk them.
“The western press’s manic fixation on abusive sex in Cambodia has made the country’s name synonymous with pedophilia, unfairly and inaccurately so,” wrote long-time Cambodia resident Casey Nelson in a blog post in 2011. While the Cambodian sexpat stereotype is often accurate, it also affects innocent fathers and daughters, forcing them to change their lifestyles to avoid harassment.
According to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, Asian sex tourists outnumber Western sex tourists in Cambodia. But white men continue to be the main targets of suspicion.
Alan Parkhouse is Australian and is the chief sub-editor of the Sunday Bangkok Post, as well as the former editor-in-chief of the Phnom Penh Post. He said he had given little thought to the sex-tourist stereotype until arriving in Phnom Penh on a visit with his teenaged Thai step-daughter.
“We were standing on the Riverside. My step-daughter hadn’t been outside Thailand before, so she was shy and holding my hand. Western people walked by and kept whispering or giving me or her dirty looks. We didn’t understand why. Then it dawned on me – I’m a western man with a 14-year-old girl hanging on him.”
The harassment is not always so subtle. Casey Nelson has lived in Phnom Penh for more than 20 years, and in a 2011 blog post, he wrote about walking on the riverfront with his daughters, aged seven and nine at the time.
According to Nelson’s account, a female Italian tourist started snapping photos of him and his daughters. “Photo you, Internet, you pedo…for police,” she said. Mr. Nelson confronted her and demanded that she delete her photos, but the woman refused. “I was accused of being a pedophile,” he wrote, “for absolutely no other reason than being a white male in the company of brown children – my son and daughter.” — Khmer Times