The vulnerbility felt by victims of rape, and the intense psychological, and often physical, pain they must endure in its aftermath can be overwhelming, regardless of the society in which it occurs.
“Victims of rape are often seriously injured if it was a violent rape and they might have contracted a disease,” said Sim Souyeang, the director of Protection of Juvenile Justice, an NGO contributing to the protection and promotion of children’s rights, particularly regarding rape, within Cambodia’s justice system.
“As for the mental impact of rape, they can become easily frustrated or deeply depressed.”
This type of panicked, hopeless state is described by a 19-year-old girl named Mony, one of dozens of victims of rape who were interviewed for an Amnesty International report called Breaking the Silence, released in March, 2010. She said nothing for a while, worried about her father’s reaction, in particular, but finally spoke with her aunt about being raped.
After their conversation, the aunt decided to tell Mony’s father about the attack and suffering that his daughter had endured. Mony said her father reacted to the news just as she thought he would; he scolded her for walking so far from the house and slapped her across the face.
In a society like Cambodia, which considers women’s virginity before marriage as a thing of high value, for rape victims, they are even more shameful and concerned about their struggle with life after the bad nightmare they faced.
Chantha, an 18-year-old who was raped by her stepfather in 2007 and brought to live in a shelter after that, says if she goes to the village she feels shamed and is afraid she will not be able to find someone to love her, according to a 2010 report called Breaking the silence by Amnesty International.
This is one of thousands of examples of rape victims in Cambodia who share the same fears and pessimistic feelings.
Lim Mony, the deputy head of the women’s and children’s rights programme at ADHOC, said rape victims do not dare to sue the perpetrators because they feel embarrassed to publicly say they were raped, especially if the perpetrators are released and come to condemn victim’s family, which can lead to the family getting a bad reputation and losing honour.
“Tradition is a great barrier preventing women from filing complaints against perpetrators. When people know that she lost her virginity, she will feel that she was left out of society and she will not be able to find a husband,” she said.
Lim Mony added that people distrust the Cambodian judicial system, which leads to many victims not daring to file complaints, which can lead to more and more cases of rape.
“Law enforcement of rape cases is lacking and not fully independent. When a perpetrator goes unpunished
many times, they will look down on women and they will commit more rapes,” she says.
She said ADHOC recorded a total of 156 complaints of rape and indecent assault from January to March this year, with 116 cases involving minors under the age of 18. These figures compare with 120 complaints with 85 cases involving minors over the same period last year.
In 2010, ADHOC investigated 501 rape and indecent assault complaints, a 9 percent increase on the 460 reported cases in 2009. Battambang and Kandal province had the highest rates of rape cases last year.
Chan Krisna Sawada, the head of a women’s and children’s right programme, was quoted in The Phnom Penh Post last month as saying that “no serious measures have been taken to combat this rise”. “[There is] the issue of victims accepting civil compensation and dropping criminal charges because of their lack of knowledge of laws.”
She says “they don’t understand that they can still proceed with the criminal charges and get the civil compensation”.
Lim Mony added that ADHOC had done a survey and interviewed perpetrators in prison; most of them answered that they had watched pornography on television or mobile phones and read magazines making them want to imitate what they saw.
She added that drugs and alcohol were also impacting on the volume of assaults. “Many perpetrators confessed to being drunk and losing control of themselves; that’s why they committed the assaults,” she said. “Leaving children at home alone, allowing children to watch television at other people’s houses and letting children feed cows in the field also give opportunities for perpetrators to commit the rapes.”
“The family should try to convince and strongly encourage her to dare to tell the truth as well as collect the evidence so that the perpetrators will not be able to escape from the law,” she said.
She added that to find justice for children, her organisation has gone to villages to bring children for medical treatment and find evidence to file complaints as well as find lawyers for the victims.
“Besides legal aid, we have tried to find organisations, our partners, to help victims to live in a new shelter and learn vocational skills like tailoring, hairdressing and English so they can earn money to support themselves and live independently,” she said.
As Cambodian tradition places importance on being a virgin for single women, it contributes to discrimination of rape victims and that makes many rape victims feel discouraged from telling their stories to family or the authorities. Lim Mony suggested the government should think about or redress this stigma to rape victims.
Since the majority of police and doctors who do medical treatment for victims are men, there should be more women working in the field which would help victims feel more comfortable and open to tell and assist the work more smoothly and effectively, according to Lim Mony.