Human rights group LICADHO has observed an alarming increase in cases of women and girls reportedly being raped by relatives, as victims continue to struggle to obtain justice due to an alleged lack of law enforcement.
Government officials, however, deny being indifferent to the issue.
In its “Breaking the Silence: Rape by Relatives and Barriers to Justice in Cambodia” report, LICADHO said women and children who are raped by a family member are too often being denied both the safety and justice to which they are entitled.
According to the report published on December 13, of all the rape or attempted rape cases investigated by LICADHO from January 2017 to December 2019, nearly one in three (137 cases) involved a suspect who was related to the victim.
The 25-page report said that almost half (46 per cent) of victims reported experiencing sexual violence by a blood relative, such as their father, uncle or grandfather. Other victims reported that they were sexually abused by their step-relatives and in-laws.
The report added that from June to August of this year, LICADHO sought to confirm the status or outcome of each of the 137 cases and received information on 135 of them.
Just over half of these cases resulted in a conviction where the perpetrator served a prison sentence that fully applied the relevant law (53 per cent).
LICADHO said that in less than one-fifth of the cases, perpetrators received light convictions, short sentences or were convicted in absentia and never arrested.
Additionally, some cases of abuse are settled out of court or have a prolonged trial period resulting in victims having little hope of justice.
“Barriers to accessing justice for these victims are due to factors such as corruption, lack of victim protection, family pressure and police asking them not to report [the case] to protect their honour.
“Some authorities are helping [victims] to resolve cases outside of the judicial system. This is because of the travelling time, as well as expenditure for court proceedings.
“In some cases, the victim decided to withdraw the complaint because the perpetrator is someone who supports the family,” the report said.
LICADHO deputy director Am Sam Ath said on December 14 that the dangers of sexual violence happening within a family are high. But, he said, authorities still have not taken sufficient action to ensure that perpetrators face justice. The rights of women and girls are not receiving enough attention, which sends out the wrong message that rape is something that can be tolerated, he added.
Sam Ath pointed out that the risk of domestic violence is likely to increase this year with schools closed. Unemployment is on the rise with the spread of Covid-19, which means more people are spending more time at home and closer to the perpetrators.
“Some of the other contributing factors that lead to an increase in cases of sexual abuse among women and girls are the decline of social morals, as well as drug use, alcoholism, lack of control of pornographic content on the internet and poverty,” he said.
Chou Bun Eng, the Ministry of Interior secretary of state and permanent vice-chair of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking of Cambodia (NCCT), said on December 14 that relevant authorities are researching and compiling a clear report to determine whether or not the number is increasing.
She said the cases occur partly due to the promotion of sexual content on the internet.
“The government has implemented many relevant policies and laws, and now the government is drafting another law on online [content] governance. The authorities are also stepping up their educational activities. We always take immediate action once we hear of the occurrence of a sexual abuse case,” she said.