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Amnesty International: Cambodia Must Act Against Rapes, Sex Crimes

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Robert Carmichael

Amnesty International says rape and sexual crimes committed mainly against women and children has become a growing problem in Cambodia.  

To mark the 100th International Women's Day, the human-rights group Amnesty International is releasing a report on the scourge of rape and sexual violence in Cambodia.

Amnesty's report, called Breaking the Silence, criticizes what it says is a culture of impunity, corruption and indifference to victims of sexual violence.  The result is justice denied for Cambodian women, and increasingly for Cambodian girls.

During its research, Amnesty interviewed 30 victims of rape, as well as 50 non-government aid workers, police and government officials, and even a number of perpetrators.  Brittis Edman, who wrote the report, explains its focus.

"What we specifically looked at is the aftermath of rape, what are the obstacles that victims face when they seek justice and when they seek access to services," said Edman.

Amnesty found that victims seeking help ran into several problems that made their situation even worse.  

"Police often do not take them seriously, they do not necessarily investigate," added Edman.  "They ask for bribes to launch an investigation.  Court officials typically ask for bribes at all levels of the process."

Edman says medical specialists generally do not provide much in the way of free treatment, meaning victims need to pay money, which they often do not have, if they want help.

There are only a few places in Cambodia where victims can go for help.  One of those is called Banteay Srei, which is based in Battambang province in western Cambodia.

Banteay Srei provides a safe house, counsels victims, and connects them with non-government organizations that provide legal services and health services.

Sun Maly is Banteay Srei's team leader.  She says demand for its services has increased dramatically since it was set up five years ago.

Last year Banteay Srei helped 71 victims of rape, which was almost twice the number it helped the previous year.  Sun Maly says part of the reason for the rise is that more women and local officials are aware of Banteay Srei's existence.

But, she says, the problem of rape and sexual violence against women is getting worse.  And that is not due to a lack of sufficient laws.

"Cambodia has good laws, but they are not enforced and the perpetrators are not punished," said Sun Maly.  "And that provides a model for other people to follow suit."

Sun Maly says most rape victims helped last year by Banteay Srei were girls.

"The number of rape victims we helped was 71, and most were underage," she added.  "The majority, around 80 percent, were just 12 or 13 years old."

Amnesty's Edman says half of the rape victims she interviewed for the report were children.

And she stresses that she did not set out to interview child victims.  Instead, the high proportion simply reflects the large numbers of children, mainly girls, who are victims of rape and who were being helped by the non-government organizations that coordinated interviews.

Why does Edman think so many children are becoming victims of rape?

"Children are clearly more vulnerable in many ways," Edman explained. "What we have seen in the research is that those who live in poverty are more vulnerable, we have seen that sex workers are more vulnerable, and it appears also that children are more vulnerable."

In its report, Amnesty outlined five pages of recommendations for the government.  Among those is wholesale reform of the way rape allegations are investigated and processed through the court system.

Amnesty says bribes demanded by police must cease, more female police officers should be recruited and trained, and courts should be more sympathetic to victims.  The rights group also says the practice of paying compensation to victims in exchange for charges being dropped should cease.

But most importantly, says Edman, the government must vocally condemn rape.  That would cost the government nothing, but would provide comfort to victims and let society know that the crime of rape would not be tolerated.

As one women, who was raped by a monk last year, told Amnesty of her unresolved case: "If he cannot be touched, and is not brought to account, he can do it again.  This would make him arrogant and a terrible role model to the people."

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