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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - APLE defends work on case

Two women sit at a stall on the riverside in Phnom Penh earlier this month after their children were taken from them as part of an investigation into sexual abuse by an Australian man
Two women sit at a stall on the riverside in Phnom Penh earlier this month after their children were taken from them as part of an investigation into sexual abuse by an Australian man. Hong Menea

APLE defends work on case

Child rights groups Action Pour Les Enfants and International Justice Mission have said they carried out a “detailed and impartial” investigation into claims of sexual abuse before removing six young boys from their families against their parents’ wishes last week.

In a statement defending their work yesterday, which followed a report on the case in the Post, the two groups said they had worked with the police to secure the arrest of the Australian national accused of abusing the children after receiving “reliable tips from various concerned sources in the community”.

“In the face of clear evidence of a crime, and in order to ensure safety … [the Department of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation] decided to temporarily place the minors in knowledgeable and safe recovery centers in Phnom Penh,” the statement said. “Social workers assisted them in making an educated decision about where the children should be placed and will support follow up with the victims and their families.”

Australian suspect George Moussallie, 51, was arrested on August 31 after being under investigation by APLE since 2009 when they noticed “suspicious, intimate relations” with children he was not related to. He is suspected of sexually abusing the children, who were then taken into protective custody.

The families were told about the whereabouts of their children and were encouraged to contact them by telephone, the statement says, adding that three of them have already been returned.

But two of the mothers yesterday said they were still angry about how they had been treated by the authorities.

“I don’t believe the Australian man committed rape,” said Ny Chanthon, the mother of two of the allegedly abused boys. “I feel angry with the authorities that they detained my children.”

Chan Sreypao, whose son was taken by the authorities and who criticised their handling of the case in an interview with the Post, said officials had visited her on Tuesday in an attempt to pressure her into filing complaints against the alleged abuser.

“We will not do that, because the man helped to support us before,” she said.

The NGOs say this attitude towards potential abusers who groom children is widespread and hard to overcome.

“It saddens us to see such a case. A common method of child abusers is to take advantage of highly vulnerable families and children, groom them through building relationships of trust and providing for essential needs … and then exploiting that trust and dependency by abusing the children.”

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