What is indecent exposure in Cambodia
- For Cambodians, nudity in public is indecency and it “damages public order”.
- Even to be topless is seen as irrespective.
- Indecent exposure or making naked photos can be criminalized as pornography and public disorder incitement in Cambodia.
Surely the three Frenchmen arrested for taking pictures of themselves completely naked at Banteay Kdei did not know exactly where they were. Westerns see a natural country like Cambodia and feel a fresh air of freedom, a place where they can do “whatever,” far from their strictly ruled nations. The reality is far from that. We live in a very rural and conservative culture that is actually very much intolerant of many things considered “natural” by others. Lastly we have three national scandals: three Europeans were expelled from Cambodia for ridding their bicycles completely naked at the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Then it came the mysterious publication of a naked woman at the very sacred temples of Angkor – the first to be investigated is Apsara Authority itself, because it creates too many questions: how the model and the photographer could follow their production without any notice in places where thousands of people use to visit? It is also probably a Photoshop creation. Then the arrest of three French young men showing up in front to the camera as they came to the world. This shows something special: Cambodia is meeting Globalization and all what it brings.
Foreign tourists must know that Cambodian legislation is very clear and it follows simple patterns of what is appropriate and what it is not. The 50th article of the Cambodian Tourism Law, instructs tourists of what they have to respect in the country. It says for example: “Respect Khmer traditions, customs and culture and not participate in any activities that violate or damage Khmer culture” (b). The only way to know what is it, is asking to locals what is appropriate. Many Cambodians still to read this law, but they know how to “respect their own culture”.
The law invites also to protect the environment and cultural heritages (do you remember the case of the Dutch women moving out a Buddha statue in Bayon?) and “not to take part in any activities in relation to drug trafficking and use, sexual human trafficking and confinement, child trafficking and sexual exploitation/prostitution, dissemination of pornographic pictures and materials, money laundering and causing insecurity to the society.” In this case, walking naked on a Cambodian street can be considered by the locals as a “damage” to the “social order”.
Nudism Vs. Pornography
In a more universal frame, the Cambodian legislation on nudity is not too much different of other countries. For example, in New York it is called “indecent exposure law”:
“New York criminalizes exposure of a person, one of several offenses “against public sensibilities,” where a person appears in a public place and exposes (or does not clothe) the private or intimate parts of his or her body. Section 245.01 of the New York Penal Code specifies that the offense does not apply to the breastfeeding of infants or to any person entertaining or performing in a play, exhibition, or show. However, the statute permits a city, town or village to adopt a local law prohibiting such exposure (State Laws, para. 1)
The defense in a New York court, in case of incrimination, is only breastfeeding and performance in a play, exhibition, show or entertainment. It means that if you ride a motorcycle in the streets of Manhattan completely naked or you take naked photos of yourself at the Statute of Liberty, you can be arrested and face a sentence that include up to 15 days in jail and fines for 250 USD.
It defines also as “indecent exposure” to “display one’s genitals in public, causing others to be alarmed or offended” (State Laws). However, it explains that in California, the prosecutor must demonstrate that such exposure intends really to offend or to sexually arouse somebody. Showing genitals do not include women breast, another discussion that brought to the legalization of topless women in New York. In this sense, it is seen as a right of women (in the West…)
Coming back to Cambodia… we are in a Buddhist country, plus we have also Muslims, plus it is a rural country with very conservative traditions. What about the Apsara images in the temples? They show topless dancing women. But it does not reflect the modern Cambodian culture. It is seen as something of the ancestors. No Cambodia woman would do that today – out of those who are not more inside the traditional standard. Even topless men is an issue in Cambodia. It is true that you see many topless men around, but it does not mean that topless men can go anywhere. They are tolerated in sports activities or at the intimacy of their homes – even if the home in a very public place. For Cambodians it is shocking to see topless male tourists, many of them of old ages, walking through the streets and entering public establishments as it were very much natural. Shirtless is something for kids, according to the Cambodian mentality.