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Blaming Rape Victims in Cambodia

If there is widespread outrage and protest in India as a reaction to the death of a young woman who was a victim of gang rape, the contrast is the situation in Cambodia where there seems to be little public outcry over rape cases.

Rape cases are given low profile despite the report of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) which documented 467 rape cases in 2011 and 320 in 2012. These figures could be higher since rape is underreported in the country.

According to the group, rape cases often fail to reach the courts because the perpetrator is able to offer financial compensation to the victim. The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) also attributed this to the fact that a family member is pinpointed as the rape perpetrator in the 53 out of 250 rape cases they documented between May 2010 to May 2011.

Mapping of rape cases in Cambodia. Image from sithi

Worse, some law enforcement officials are blaming the victims for being raped. Responding to a recent case involving a 19-year-old disabled woman who was raped in a banana field in the Kien Svay district, Kandal province, the district police chief Pam Sam Eth reportedly said:

It was already 9 p.m. when was raped. She shouldn’t have been out so late.

Such remark reflects the attitude of some public officials when confronted with rape cases; and it deters victims from seeking assistance with proper government authorities. Sadly, this attitude is not limited in a single district and there have been several instances when public officials are reported to have uttered a similar remark. For example, the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs reportedly supported a public rally of more than 100 people who came out in the streets to urge Khmer women to dress more modestly:

Wearing short skirts and sexy clothes causes rape to occur, because all men, when they see white skin, immediately feel like having sex.

Image from the video of equitycam about ‘Rape and Legal Punishment in Cambodia’

Writing for The Cambodian Daily, Mech Dara and Denise Hruby quote a 2010 report by the Amnesty Internationalwhich sounded the alarm on the rising number of rape cases in Cambodia

Amid a culture of impunity and widespread corruption, victims of sexual violence in Cambodia are often denied justice; struggle to pay informal fees for health services; and grapple to obtain assistance and support. Commonly, law-enforcement officials, including police and court staff, arrange unlawful out-of-court payments between the victim and the perpetrator (or their families)

The lack of effective investigations and prosecution further harms victims, who often live with the fear that the perpetrator is free to attack them again, with the additional psychological pain and a perceived loss of dignity. Failures by the authorities, including in the criminal justice system, go unquestioned and become an extension of the initial abuse

Another documented discriminatory statement is the proposal of the Phnom Penh Governor back in 2009 to ban girls under 16 year old from going out alone after 9pm. His belief is that young girls are likely to show up at clubs, karaoke bars or other entertainment places where only adults should be allowed entry. He further asserted that this proposal is aimed to promote good morals in society. However, the proposed girl curfew was criticized by many people who prefer that local authorities focus on law enforcement instead of merely blaming the victim.

The attitude of shifting the blame on women (the CCHR did not encounter any instance of rape involving a male victim or a female perpetrator during its case documentation), puts more women at risk. This contradicts the government declaration that ‘women are the backbone of the nation’.

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