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Cambodia: Sex crimes crisis

Publish Date: 08 Mar 2005

Source: AFP, Phnom Penh

Women, children face sex crimes crisis

Cambodian women and children are facing a rising tide of sex crimes and urgent action is needed to protect them against abuse, a rights group warned on Monday.

Rape and indecent assault cases have risen steadily in recent years, and many of the victims are children, some as young as four years old, local human rights group Licadho said ahead of International Woman's Day on Tuesday.

"Cambodia is facing a crisis of sex crimes against its women and children," the group said in a statement.

Licadho said it investigated 205 cases of rape and indecent assault involving 218 victims in 2004, compared with 177 cases and 185 victims in 2003.

Shame, embarrassment, fear of revenge by the perpetrator, distrust of the justice system and the unofficial costs of filing complaints are among the reasons preventing victims and their families from pressing charges or filing complaints.

"More action is needed to stop the rape of women and children who continue to live in fear and rarely have access to resources such as shelters, legal and social support, or medical care," Licadho president Kek Galabru said in the statement.

Seventy percent of victims reported to Licadho's offices in 2004 were under the age of 18, and 28 percent were age 12 or younger, while media reported that 15 percent of the assaults were allegedly committed by a relative.

A persistent problem is the unlawful compensation settlements that are being pursued outside the court system.

Perpetrators or their relatives often pay the victims and their families in return for withdrawing the complaints, often with the active involvement of police or court officials, the group stated.

http://www.licadho.org/news.php?id=21

Copyright © 2005 AFP

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Source: LICADHO Media Statement for International Women's Day

More Action is Needed to Protect Women and Children Against Sexual Abuse

In August 2003, Sokha*, a 14-year-old girl, went to help her neighbours lift and move furniture. On her way back home, she saw three men on a bridge. They started to run after her. She tried to escape but fell. They caught her, covered her mouth, put their hands around her neck and threatened to kill her if she dared to scream. Then they raped her under the bridge causing her serious injuries. In April 2004, the three perpetrators were convicted to 17 years in prison in absentia and ordered to pay $100 in compensation. To this day, the police have been unable to find the perpetrators.

Just after Khmer New Year in 2004, Vicheat*, a 19-year-old woman, was having dinner with her uncle at home while her parents were out. Her uncle drank wine and offered her a fruit shake. She remembers feeling very sleepy after the dinner and losing consciousness afterwards. When she woke up, she was naked and felt pain. Few days later, her uncle entered her room and sexual abused her a second time. He threatened to beat her if she told anybody. The next day, he left for Thailand, where he remains. The same month, Vicheat’s father entered her room one night and raped her. She didn't shout or move because she was afraid of being beaten. Months later, Vicheat realized she was pregnant. Vicheat wanted to go to the hospital to get an abortion, but didn't have enough money to do so. A relative of Vicheat later filed a complaint with the police. The police briefly detained her father, but then released him. The police claim they are still investigating the case.

Sokha and Vicheat are just two of the numerous women and girls raped every day in Cambodia and often left without support or resources.

Cambodia is facing a crisis of sex crimes against its women and children. Reported rape and indecent assault cases have increased in recent years, and many victims are children – some as young as 4 or 5 year-old.  "More action is needed to stop the rape of women and children who continue to live in fear and rarely have access to resources such as shelters, legal and social support, or medical care," said Kek Galabru, President of LICADHO.

Although the true extent of rape and indecent assault in Cambodian is unknown because only a fraction of cases are reported, the number of reported cases is increasing. In 2004, LICADHO investigated 205 cases of rape and indecent assault (involving 218 victims), and 177 cases (185 victims) in 2003. This compares to 146 cases in 2001. Local newspapers reported 288 cases of rape in 2004, and 266 cases in 2003. Shame and embarrassment, fear of revenge by the perpetrator, distrust of the justice system, and the unofficial costs of filing a complaint are some of the reasons which prevent victims and their families from filing a complaint to local law enforcement.

Child rape and rape by family members are of particular concern. Indeed, 70% of the victims reported to LICADHO’s offices in 2004 were under the age of 18, and 78% in 2003. In 2004, 28% were aged 12 or younger, as were more than 40% in 2003. And more than 15% of the cases reported by the local newspapers in 2004 were allegedly committed by a family member.

"Rape and indecent assault are serious crimes under Cambodian law, and victims have a right to justice and social support", Kek Galabru stated. The police and courts have the duty to investigate and prosecute crimes in strict accordance with the law. Unfortunately, due in part to corruption, the failure of some police and court officials to fulfil their lawful duties, and misunderstandings about the laws, many rape cases are not investigated and prosecuted properly.  For instance, the UNTAC law defines rape as a "sexual act involving penetration”, and specifies that "anyone who rapes or attempts to rape" is guilty of rape. Some judges seem to misunderstand the definition of rape, especially that of attempted. When the proof of penetration is insufficient or reveals partial penetration, charges of rape (a crime) are often reduced to indecent assault (a misdemeanour defined as a sexual act not involving penetration) which carries a much lighter penalty. One Phnom Penh Municipal Court Clerk has estimated that about 50% of all rape charges that come before the court are reduced to indecent assault.

According to Roath Leakhena, coordinator of LICADHO's Women's Rights Office, one major and persistent problem is unlawful ‘compensation’ settlements, outside of the court system, of criminal complaints. Perpetrators or their families provide money to victims or their families in return for withdrawing the criminal complaint. In 2003, 36% of the cases reported to LICADHO were settled unlawfully. This compares to 24% in 2002. "This practice doesn't seem to be decreasing with already 15% of the 2004 cases settled by 'compensation' although the majority of the cases are still pending", said Ms. Roath. The majority of these settlements take place with the active involvement of police or court officials.

On the occasion of International Women's Day, on March 8th, Voice Of America (VOA), Radio Free Asia (RFA), CWMC  (FM 102), and Cambodian Center Human Rights (CCHR) will interview victims of sexual abuse to raise public awareness and urge the government to take more action  to protect women and children.

* Names have been changed to protect the identity of victims

This media statement is partly based on LICADHO's 2004 briefing paper "Rape & Indecent Assault Cases & the Cambodian Justice System", available online at www.licadho.org

Copyright © 2005 LICADHO