A local television presenter is facing heavy criticism for an inflammatory on-air suggestion that rape victims should not resist their attackers, and should instead accept sexual assault to avoid being killed – a reference to a brutal rape and murder of an 18-year-old woman in Svay Rieng province last week.
Hang Meas TV morning presenter Meas Rithy on Thursday was discussing the case of casino worker Sovan Somalin – who went missing after she hired a taxi in the casino town of Bavet and was later found dead in a small pond, face-down and tied to a rock – with his co-presenter Ros Sotheavy when he made the startling suggestions.
“If you happen to be in the tiger’s clutches, please agree with them and do not resist them. That will cause them to kill you – just try to save your life,” he said.
“Some women should not scream or scold the rapist, because when you are caught in the tiger’s teeth let it be. Let them rape you.”
Rithy claimed to be conveying messages from women he had met having dinner last week, adding that these women had asked him to express the above suggestions.
Then, seemingly addressing rapists, he asks them not to murder their victims, all the while failing to condemn the act of sexual assault.
“Please rapists, after the rape, don’t murder. After raping, why not keep their life?” he said.
In closing, Sotheavy chimed in by blaming victims for taking private taxis, as Somalin had, instead suggesting that women only use buses with other passengers on board.
The comments over the weekend caused uproar on social media, with an online petition receiving more than 1,500 signatures asking for an apology from the two presenters.
Reached yesterday, Rithy quipped that he wasn’t important enough to deserve an online petition, but said that he had no intention to “look down on women”.
“If they found my words upsetting, I am not afraid to make a public apology if what I said really upset them, because I do journalism for society,” he said.
He pointed out that the show was aired live and there was potential for making mistakes.
The comments came a day before the Ministry of Information officially released a code of conduct on reporting violent crimes against women, with Ouk Kimseng on Friday reminding journalists and news organisations to refrain from publishing disparaging pictures, comments and opinions about victims of violent assault.
Article 11 of the code prevents organisations from publishing judgments about the causes of such assaults, such as the victim’s economic status, clothing and education, whereas Article 12 explicitly says they “must not blame or put the fault on the women when violence happens to them”.
Yesterday Kimseng said Rithy should put out a correction if he had violated the newly instated code. Failing that, he added, the victim’s family could file a complaint with the police or courts.
While the code does not contain any punitive measures, the Information Ministry has said the 1995 Law on the Press could be used for any punishment.
“[The code] is just a consensus that we should not do this or that. For how wrongful it is, we have the public to judge,” he said, adding that the ministry was not the “justice police” in charge of meting out punishments.
A staffer with the show – who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the press – said that as of yesterday evening, there was no talk of internal disciplinary measures for the presenters.
Ros Sopheap, head of Gender and Development for Cambodia, said Rithy’s comments were unacceptable, and called him the embodiment of “a person who does not respect women’s rights at all”.
“It happens a lot, especially with Meas Rithy at Hang Meas. Every time he speaks [about women] we are not happy, but try to send them feedback,” she said. “This time we cannot stand by.”
She added that it was up to the government to take action to show how serious they were about the code of conduct, but also pointed out that Rithy’s comments resonated beyond the morning show anchor, with victim-shaming a common occurrence in the Kingdom.
Rachana Bun, who works for ActionAid Cambodia, was one of the people to start the online petition demanding that the two presenters tender apologies for their comments and for Hang Meas to sensitise its reporters on covering women’s issues. “He was justifying and normalising the crime. We did not want to only feel frustrated, but also to take personal action this time,” she said.
Phan Ratana, spokesman for the Svay Rieng Provincial Court’s prosecutor’s office, said the two suspects in Somalin’s rape and murder – Chhoeuy Socheat and Phleak Mony – had been charged by the court under Article 205 for “murder with torture, cruel acts or rape”.
Additional reporting by Mech Dara and Vong Sokheng