New research conducted by First Step Cambodia has shown that parents and government authorities still have little awareness of how to prevent boys from being victims of sexual abuse, despite a previous study which found that more boys than girls suffer sexual exploitation.
The First Step project was developed to focus on the issue of exploitation of boys and to provide support for male survivors of sexual abuse and their families.
The research suggests that traditional social norms which dictate that men are superior to women – and the idea that men or boys cannot be victims of sexual abuse – are the main cause of Cambodian boys being even more vulnerable than girls.
While a case review by NGO Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE) in 2016 showed that 53 per cent of child victims were boys aged between seven and 17 years, a 2014 Unicef study also found that more boys – five per cent – experienced sexual abuse compared to girls at four per cent.
First Step interviewed 420 people, 204 of whom were male, in Phnom Penh and Kandal, Siem Reap and Takeo provinces for its study from May to September last year.
Its executive director Yaim Chamreun told The Post on Wednesday that some boys interviewed for the research had experienced sexual abuse lasting several years.
He said the main aim of the research was to find out whether there is enough care for boys who have been victimised. “Generally, we always expect all males to be stronger, protect each other and be braver.
“Actually, it’s not like that at all. From our research, we found that boys, girls, parents and the authorities nearly always have this idea, and that’s the reason they are less inclined to care about boys."
“For example, when they see a man going into a hotel walking side-by-side holding a girl’s hand, they worry and call to police. But if they see a guy holding a boy’s hand walking into a hotel, they think it is just normal."
“Cambodian boys are forced, mostly by foreign men, to have sex – and some are forced into other sexually harmful behaviour. After becoming victims of sexual abuse, the boys get blamed, discriminated against and called gay,” Chamreun said.
Chou Bun Eng, the permanent vice-chair of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking, said there had not been any sexual abuse of boys in the last few years, but she called for cooperation from all NGO workers if they know of any abuse happening to boys.
“It might be that Cambodian people rarely hear about the sexual abuse of boys, but I call on NGOs who know about this more clearly to cooperate with the authorities."
“As we know, our people are careless about sexual abuse of boys and the [NGOs], who care more about the issue, should work with the authorities – and we vow not to let any offender go free.”
The First Step researchers called on parents and families to become educated about the issue so they treat boys in the same manner as girls, learn to identify their children’s problems and seek help and be supportive of boys who are victims of abuse.
Relevant parties, it said, needed to strengthen the child protection mechanisms of local authorities – such as village chiefs, the police and the Commune Committee for Women and Children – and ensure NGO services link directly to those of the state authorities.
Schools need to include sex education in their curriculums, the researchers said, including the issue of abuse of boys and sexually inappropriate behaviour between children.