Local police in Mondulkiri have been left scrambling after they were publicly reprimanded yesterday for failing to act on a report of rape committed against a 17-year-old deaf girl, a case one provincial police official acknowledged had “flaws” in its investigation.
The victim’s mother, Cheeng Thoeun, 48, said she had repeatedly begged for commune police to question and arrest the suspected rapist, Rin Bora, 21, on April 18, the day after the crime. She was told they could not make an arrest, citing lack of evidence. When they finally went to question him 10 hours later, the suspect had already fled.
“This is such an injustice for my family, and I felt very hopeless when the local authorities did not take action,” Thoeun said. Local media reports yesterday cited Mondulkiri Governor Svay Sam Eang blasting police for failing to act swiftly and leaving victims languishing.
Provincial deputy police chief Houn Kimheng, meanwhile, said commune police failed to send a report to the provincial level, adding that there were “flaws” in their handling of the case.
She said her technical staff had arranged a medical exam on April 20, which confirmed the victim had told the truth about the assault.
“When I watched the victim’s testimony and movement . . . I was not satisfied with the [official account],” she said. “It was not like that . . . it was true she was very shaky and shocked and scared . . . even though she could not speak, we can understand her. When we showed her the picture of the suspect on a phone, she wanted to crush the phone and she gritted her teeth.”
However, Yan Sanei, Pou Chrei commune police chief, said yesterday police could not act immediately as it was difficult to understand the victim, saying he had instead believed the suspect’s sister, who claimed it was consensual sex.
“We cannot question [the victim] and only her parents could understand her; she can speak only a little,” Sanei said, adding the victim had used gestures to demonstrate what had happened to her. “We could not arrest the suspect because we did not know whether there was really rape or not.”
He said he consulted Pech Chreada district police, who instructed him to wait for enough evidence to take to the prosecutor. By the time police attempted to make an arrest around midnight, Bora had fled and remains at large.
Sokly Keat, co-director of the Maryknoll Deaf Development Programme (DDP), urged the police to do more to understand deaf victims of crime, though he acknowledged the difficulties in the Cambodian context.
“They should not ignore any cases and use inability to communicate as a reason,” Keat said, adding the DDP could be contacted to facilitate sign-language assistance. However, he noted, the vast majority of deaf people do not know sign language.
But Ros Sopheap, of Gender and Development in Cambodia, said even victims without disabilities were often not believed or blamed for inviting sexual assault, and that for a deaf victim, seeking help could be difficult.
“For the deaf, I’m afraid, first, that police do not understand, and push her to act out [the assault]. This is worse, it is traumatising,” she said.