The human rights group Amnesty International has released a report detailing a rise in rape in Cambodia. Amnesty says police and NGO workers across Cambodia are reporting higher numbers of rape and they believe it is getting worse. Amnesty International says Cambodia has failed to properly punish offenders or give support to victims.
Presenter: Robert Carmichael
Brittis Edman, country specialist, Amnesty International; Sun Maly, team leader Banteay Srei safe house; Dr Kek Pung, president, Licadho
CARMICHAEL: Amnesty International released a hard-hitting report on Monday saying the Cambodian government has failed to meet its international obligations to protect women - and increasingly children - from a rising incidence of rape. Although accurate data on rape are impossible to find, Amnesty says police and NGO workers across Cambodia are reporting higher numbers of the crime, and believe it is getting worse. Amnesty's report called 'Breaking the Silence says widespread corruption in the police, judiciary and medical systems combined with a lack of accessible services means victims of rape are failing to get justice. Brittis Edman is Amnesty's country specialist. She says the report focuses on the aftermath of rape, the obstacles victims encounter when they try to get justice.
EDMAN: We found that the situation that they meet is really very, very difficult, and much of their experience after the rape is an extension of the initial abuse.
CARMICHAEL: Edman says police often fail to take victims' complaints seriously, and regularly refuse to investigate unless they are bribed to do so.
EDMAN: Court officials typically ask for bribes at all levels of the process. Medical services are few and far between.
CARMICHAEL: Amnesty also found that since the poor suffer most from the scourge of rape, the insistence on cash payments puts them at a further disadvantage. Amnesty's report was based on interviews with 30 victims of rape, around half of whom were under 18. Edman says the high prevalence of child victims, mainly girls was not deliberate, but stems from the fact that so many of those at the NGOs set up to help rape victims are children. One such NGO is called Banteay Srei and is based in Battambang province in western Cambodia. Team leader Sun Maly says 80 percent of the 71 rape victims her safe house helped last year were girls of just 12 or 13 years old. Since Banteay Srei started just five years ago, the number of rape victims has risen from 5 to 71. Sun Maly says there are a number of reasons for the rise.
SUN MALY: The increase is firstly due to poverty - parents leaving their children alone when they leave to seek work. The second is the fact that people know our service is available. And the third is because of social perceptions of the problem.
CARMICAHEL: Sun Maly is not alone in blaming the apparent rise in rapes on the lack of law enforcement.
SUN MALY: Cambodia has good laws, but they are not enforced and the perpetrators are not punished. And that provides a model for other people to follow suit.
CARMICHAEL: Amnesty says the government must recruit and train more female police officers, and ensure that courtrooms are more victim-friendly. But changing society's perception of the victims and perpetrators of rape is vital too.
EDMAN: The most important recommendation is that we ask the government to speak out and condemn publicly and repeatedly rape. This to show that it's not tolerated, and they have to do it because of the lack of social sanction.
CARMICAHEL: One practice that came in for strong criticism was that of samroh-samruol, in which the perpetrator pays the victim a cash sum in exchange for the charges being dropped, with the police taking a cut. Worse still is the practice of the perpetrator marrying the victim - to escape court. Cambodia's conservative social code means women are expected to retain their virginity until marriage, and that means rape victims are often ostracised.
EDMAN: Most of the recommendations that we are making don't cost much - and they are not easy to do, because they take political will, but we are asking for that political will to be demonstrated.
CARMICHAEL: The scale of the problem is immense, as Kek Pung, the president of local human rights group Licadho, told journalists on Monday, which was International Women's Day. Last year, she says, her organisation assisted more than 225 child victims of rape.
KEK PUNG: We managed to get 20 percent of the perpetrators that were brought to justice.
CARMICHAEL: That of course means 80 percent of child rapists escaped punishment, despite those children having the backing of a prominent and well-funded organisation like Licadho. It is clear that Cambodia has a long way to go in combating sexual violence towards women and children.