APNSW launches Bad Rehab video

In 2008 the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers created a karaoke-style video titled “Bad Rehab” to highlight the human rights abuses sex workers were subjected to while detained in “rehabilitation” centres in Cambodia.

Sex workers were targeted in a wave of crackdowns after the introduction of the 2008 Cambodian Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation, which fails to distinguish between consensual sex work and trafficking. Sex workers and human rights organisations have published evidence of human rights abuses including rape, violence and unlawful detention by police, prison guards and NGOs and deaths in custody.

The track also focused on the efforts of Somaly Mam, a high profile self-professed “former victim of human trafficking”, in promoting the anti-trafficking agenda in Cambodia.

Despite being widely shared on social media, the “Bad Rehab” track was removed from many online sources due to complaints from the Somaly Mam Foundation and her widely discredited Cambodian-based NGO, Acting For Women In Distressing Situations (AFESIP).

APNSW explained the inclusion of Somaly Mam in the video, saying:

“Somaly is the new face of [the] global anti-trafficking [movement]. She says it’s about human rights – but we know that her centre illegally detains sex workers, which is also against human rights. We are sick of people and organisations who use anti-trafficking messages but are really anti-sex work and want to make all sex work illegal. Somaly Mam walks the red carpet when people that she kept in rehabilitation centre[s] are being detained illegally in many cases.”

Photo of a large warehouse around 1000 women working on sewing machies
“Save us from the saviours” – a garment factory in Cambodia.

The video also highlights the role of low-wage garment factories in Cambodia, and how training in the use of sewing machines is routinely offered as vocational training in detention centres, including at least some of the Afesip centres.

According to Andrew Hunter of the APNSW: this emphasis on sewing as the skill that will enable women to stop sex work illustrates the shallowness of the approach. Women flow to the sex industry from the garment industry because they cannot earn a living wage. Yet these organisations continue to insist that sewing training is an entry point to a new, safe occupation.” (Quoted in the APNSW and WNU report by Cheryl Overs:Caught between the tiger and the crocodile.“)

Don't talk to me about sewing machines. Talk to me about workers rights.
APNSW T-shirt design

“Bad Rehab” parodies the Lady Gaga track, “Bad Romance.” APNSW opted to create a karaoke-style video in acknowledgment that many South East Asia operate from karaoke bars, and that karaoke culture has been adopted by sex industry workers for both professional and personal entertainment purposes.

On 17 December 2010, International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers, APNSW released an extended re-mix of “Bad Rehab” (linked above).

In 2014, six years after the original “Bad Rehab” video was produced, the western mainstream media “discovered” the scandal of lies surrounding Somaly Mam in Cambodia.