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Rape stats rise in Siem Reap

Rape stats rise in Siem Reap

Difficulty in gathering data may obscure severity of sexual violence problem.

Siem Reap Province
REPORTED rapes in Siem Reap province have increased sharply this year compared with 2009, according to the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Centre (CWCC), raising questions about the severity of the Kingdom’s sexual assault problem and the reliability of data on the issue.

Ket Noeun, Siem Reap manager for the CWCC, said her organisation had recorded 70 rape cases in the first four months of 2010, compared with just 29 during the same period last year. She said she was “very concerned” about this increase, though she noted that the explanation for the jump is likely more complicated than a simple spike in assaults.

“This increase may be related to victims who dared to speak out about their problems, local police who declined to settle rape cases out of court, as well as an actual increase in crimes committed,” Ket Noeun said Thursday. Still common, she added, are cases in which victims accept cash compensation or proposals of marriage from their assailants rather than filing complaints in provincial court.

The CWCC’s statistics differ from government figures, Ket Noeun said, because many victims choose to deal with hers and other organisations rather than filing official complaints.

Sun Bunthong, chief of the anti-human trafficking unit of the Siem Reap provincial police, said he agreed that rapes were on the rise in the province, though he denied that the situation is as severe as CWCC statistics suggest. He did not have statistics for 2009, but said that provincial police had made arrests in 20 of the 24 rape cases reported to them so far this year.

“The numbers may have increased because we have stopped the practice of brokering informal settlements – we always send the perpetrators to court,” he said. “Law enforcement has improved, and that is one factor in this increase.”

But Siem Reap provincial court prosecutor Ty Soveinthal denied that the number of rapes had increased at all, saying that the CWCC’s figures had likely been inflated by false complaints.

“I do not agree with those numbers,” he said. “We often see rape cases in which girls call up their boyfriends on the phone and then accuse them of rape.”

“These are false allegations,” he added.

The National Police recorded 468 cases of rape, attempted rape and sexual harassment from November 2008 to November 2009, a 24 percent increase compared with the previous year, according to a report on sexual violence in Cambodia released in March by Amnesty International.

These numbers, Amnesty said, are “extremely low and unreliable”, underscoring the difficulty of gathering comprehensive information on the issue.

“This lack of comprehensive data on sexual violence against women and girls hampers an understanding about the extent of the problem,” the report says. “The acute lack of adequate services and assistance available for survivors of sexual violence may be linked to the incomplete information about how many girls and women are affected, what kinds of medical and psychosocial needs they have, and in what circumstances they live.”

Amnesty’s March report documented a number of cases in which rape victims were too ashamed or afraid to report the crimes against them.

This was once the case for Leakhana, a 35-year-old woman from Siem Reap’s Puok district whose real name has been withheld. She came to CWCC last week to seek assistance in filing a rape complaint against her husband on behalf of her three daughters, saying that she had initially been hesitant to report the crimes before receiving encouragement from her neighbours.

“I dared to report to the police after my 6-year-old daughter told our neighbours that her father had raped her,” she said. “I told the police to arrest my husband.”

Among the women in the Amnesty report who did pursue criminal complaints, many faced indifference or pressure from law enforcement to settle their cases informally.

Brittis Edman, Southeast Asia researcher for Amnesty, said Sunday that although it is currently impossible to state definitively whether sexual violence in the Kingdom is increasing, the CWCC’s figures are just one among many worrying indicators.

“There are lots of factors indicating that the number of rapes is on the increase,” she said. “This is one such indicator.”

Chou Bun Eng, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, said the government is working to encourage victims to report sexual assaults and seek assistance from law enforcement. These efforts, she said, “will hopefully reduce the number of rape cases in our country”, though she added that factors beyond the government’s control, such as pernicious cultural influences, were contributing to the problem.

Chou Bun Eng said she did not have up-to-date statistics on rape and sexual assault, referring questions to Bith Kimhong, director of the Ministry of Interior’s Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department, who declined to comment.

Edman said there is a “huge need” for the government to gather quality statistics on sexual violence, both to determine the severity of the problem and to demonstrate that it takes the issue seriously.

“Only when the authorities demonstrate that rape is unacceptable will there be a change,” she said.