The first quantitative survey of Phnom Penh's middle-class youth has found a high
prevalence of gang rape of prostitutes, widespread fear of youth gangs in schools,
and the 'alarming' popularity of the methamphetamine drug yaba.
The survey, Youth attitudes about gangs, violence, drugs and theft, was conducted
among 580 young people aged 18-28 in the capital in late September. It was organized
by local NGO Gender and Development for Cambodia (GAD), and research coordinator
Luke Bearup said some of the study's findings were extremely alarming.
"The most concerning thing that has come out of it is the extremely high levels
of gang rape," Bearup said. "It is frightening to think that 20 men can
rape a women at the same time, and consider this a fun, bonding experience between
GAD's study built on qualitative research by Population Services International (PSI)
earlier this year, in which many young men spoke openly of gang rape of prostitutes,
known as bowk.
GAD's quantitative analysis found that 60 percent of male university students interviewed
knew others involved in bowk, as did 34 percent of male school students.
"Through this we can potentially gain a general knowledge of the prevalence
of gang rape as a pattern of behavior amongst young people," the report states.
The low level of awareness of bowk among women indicates it is a secretive activity
carried out by males. GAD stated this showed a clear need for a substantial amount
of human rights education work.
Just over 11 percent of men thought bowk was 'something guys do for fun, a bonding
experience between friends', while more than 12 percent of males thought it was 'Okay
- doesn't hurt anyone, because prostitutes see many men'. Only around 13 percent
of youths of both sexes thought the act constituted rape, or viewed it as wrong because
the women did not give permission.
Respondents were also asked about violence, and whether they had ever witnessed an
assault where the victim deserved to be assaulted.
"Out of the 580 surveyed, an incredible 73.4 percent of respondents stated that
they had witnessed such an assault," Bearup said. "Clearly these responses
suggest that in some circumstances violence is seen as a necessary and right means
of dealing with others."
Bearup said GAD undertook the research after community concern at high levels of
youth gang violence and the abuse of young people. Nearly 70 percent of those interviewed
were school or university students, and 83 percent described themselves as of average
wealth. Bearup said this was significant.
"These issues are thought of as being lower-class problems, problems of street
kids," he said, "but these results indicate that they are the concerns
faced by everyday young people and the middle-class, not just the poor."
Another major finding was that around two-thirds of school students and 60 percent
of university students were concerned about youth gangs, which led to a fear of attending
Focus groups with researchers also showed that students, especially girls , were
terrified of youth gangs.
Drugs were another major interview topic. Slightly more than half of high school
students stated that yaba was popular. It was also regarded as the drug of choice
when compared with cocaine, alcohol, heroin, marijuana and cigarettes.
"And yaba was the drug about which people had the least understanding of the
potential damaging effects," GAD's Bearup said. "More people recognized
marijuana as being bad for their health than they did amphetamines."
The report recognizes that its findings raise clear challenges for NGOs. "It
has been ten years of human rights campaigning, yet some of the results suggest that
we have failed to make a significant impact on the 13 to 28 year old age group, which
comprises 35.4 percent of the population," it noted.
GAD's gender trainer Tong Soprach said the research findings would be distributed
to the government and NGOs early next year.
"We will use this research to improve our ability to conduct gender awareness
training with young people, and strengthen advocacy to stop violence against women
and children." Soprach said.