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A society oblivious to rape

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A group of young men convicted of gang-raping an 18-year-old woman leave the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh, along with other prisoners, following hearings earlier this month. Photograph: Vireak Mai/Phnom Penh Post

Young people recently staged a mass demonstration in  New Delhi, India, demanding that six men who allegedly gang-raped a 23-year-old woman, fatally injuring her, be sentenced to death.

The protests spread throughout India, leading the world to condemn this repugnant crime.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the Indian government to protect women, saying:  “All women and children must be entitled to rights and protection.”

So why do many young Khmers seemingly not care about gang rape?

There’s a Khmer saying “Kbal nak na, saok nak noeng (Anyone’s head, anyone’s hair)”, meaning:  “If it’s your problem, you must deal with it by yourself. I shouldn’t be involved.”

If there’s a problem that doesn’t affect them or their family, they ignore it, even when they are able to help.

Many young Khmers seem to be obsessed with being happy. When they have money, they go out extravagantly and show pictures of themselves on Facebook partying, night-clubbing and singing karaoke.

That seems sufficient for them. They seemingly don’t care about social issues, or even one another.

Last month, in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district, a young woman’s boyfriend allegedly raped her in a field, then phoned three of his friends, inviting them to come and rape her.

Why didn’t this case spark any reaction from young Cambodians? Are the youth organisations in this country blind and dumb?  

Today, youth groups have varying missions and goals.

Young people who belong to political parties generally don’t take social issues seriously.

All they do is persuade their peers to join them in recruiting members for their party, doing whatever they can for it to win the next election.

Some high-ranking officials’ children form youth organisations under the motto of “democracy”, “human rights” or “peace”, but their real goal is to gather votes for their parties.

NGOs and associations working with young people in schools also seem to be ignoring the issue of gang rape.

Are they paralysed by indecision, or are they waiting for donors to lead the way? Or is it a case of seemingly no need, therefore no action? How can we change social attitudes to this issue?

In India, women have lower status in society, but now they are protesting for rights in an attempt to end the abuses against them.

But what about Cambodia? Why does it remain silent on the sexual abuse of women and children?

Social morality is deteriorating. Men often seem to think only of sexual desire when they see a woman, and if she refuses their advances, they rape her.

But that’s not enough for them; they call their friends to come and rape her too.

This is one of the cruellest crimes against humanity. What does it say about the value placed on women in Cambodia?   

Police respond to reports of gang rape only if they happen to witness the incident or receive a complaint from the victim.

Gang rape is widespread not only among women but also female children and sex workers, as a research project from 2002 to 2004 found.

Gang rape – known colloquially as bauk (Khmer for “plus”) – generally occurs after one or two young men negotiate a price with a sex worker, or solicit a woman’s affection, and arrange a proposed destination for sexual intercourse.

The woman is then taken to a hotel or guesthouse where numerous other young men are waiting, or will soon arrive.

The youths coerce the woman into having sex with them all without permission, often accompanied by violence.

Almost all these young men claim this is not rape because they have already paid for sex.

Research conducted in 2004 by CARE/EU/UNFPA found that 72 per cent of the young men between 18 and 23 who were surveyed had participated in gang rape.

At the time, researchers recommended that the incidence of gang rape could be lessened by raising awareness of the issue through reproductive-health, gender and human-rights programs for young men, who quickly learn from one another when they go to school or move to Phnom Penh to work.

When it comes to such an inhuman act as gang rape, it is not enough to simply enforce the law, even by imposing a life sentence.

This wastes valuable time, as the court process is very slow and rape victims often feel they have no future after suffering such an ordeal.

What is most important, however, is that young people themselves have to address this appalling crime committed by their peers.

The issue should be debated among young people, who must find a solution, present a petition to the government or, at the very least, release a statement enunciating in the strongest possible terms their abhorrence of gang rape.

Young men shouldn’t live by the motto “Slap douch puos, ruos douch kangkep (Die like a snake, live like a frog)”.

Through the youth associations of the government and opposition parties, and NGO youth organisations, the issue of gang rape must be dealt with firmly and decisively.

There must be intervention for the safety of young women — regardless of whether they are prostitutes — rather than purely out of political interest or ensuring young people’s votes.

Tong Soprach is a social-affairs columnist for the Post’s Khmer edition
 

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