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Rights of rape victims often ignored by 'mediators'

Rights of rape victims often ignored by 'mediators'

Rape victims in Cambodia have traditionally been forced to marry their attackers.

Now victims are increasingly willing, or coerced, to accept cash payoffs from rapists

to settle the cases, say social workers.

In Kompong Cham's Dambe District a 13-year-old girl was raped last September while

out in the fields tending her family's cows and water buffalo. Her attacker held

a sickle to her throat and threatened to kill her if she cried for help.

Three days after the assault the girl identified the rapist and her aunt took the

information to the commune police. When questioned by police the accused man confessed

to the crime and agreed to pay his victim 1,500,000 Riels compensation to settle

the matter.

In Takeo Province, another young woman was raped by three police officers in a village

market last October. Again, the victim was able to identify her attackers and a complaint

was filed with police.

The police chief intervened in the case and mediated a settlement between the men

under his command who committed the rape and the victim's family. The rapists agreed

to pay a total of 2,000,000 Riel in compensation. The police chief then considered

the case settled, and these men are still working as police officers.

But under Cambodian law these cases are not settled. It is not the role of the police

to mediate between rape victims and their attackers to obtain financial compensation.

Police are to investigate the reported crime, make arrests if necessary, then pass

the case to the courts for prosecution.

Police, however, have found they can supplement their incomes by encouraging mediations

from which they take a percentage of the settlements.

Chanthol Oung, Executive Director of the Cambodian Women's Crisis Center (CWCC),

said the problem with rape is not only legal, but cultural.

"Victims don't dare to speak out because in Cambodian culture virginity is most

important. No man wants to marry a woman who is not a virgin, and often the victim's

family will blame the woman for allowing the rape," said Oung.

Oung said most rapes go unreported and many woman will seek help only after they

have been raped repeatedly by the same man.

In villages it is still common for the families of rape victims to encourage the

girl to marry the man who raped her if she lost her virginity to him. "Sometimes

the woman agrees to marry if she doesn't already have a boyfriend," said Oung.

If the victim's family can't arrange a wedding, they will often negotiate with the

family of the rapist to receive monetary compensation. A settlement of between $100

and $200 is common, and the victim's family will agree not to take the matter to

the police, or to withdraw their complaint.

"It is the obligation of the State to pursue these cases anyway, but police

don't understand their role. I think more education is needed for the police,"

said Oung.

According to Oung, in nearly all rape cases the police try to negotiate a financial

settlement because they can demand a percentage of the compensation for their mediation

efforts.

She said marital rape, while very common, is a concept greatly misunderstood in Cambodian

society. In a survey of women in 10 villages on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Oung

said 18.7 per cent of married women said they were raped repeatedly by their husbands.

"When women who are raped by their husband go to the police they are laughed

at. 'Why do you say you are raped - he is entitled to that because when you were

married you gave him permission,' they say. Women are considered property by their

husbands because they pay for the weddings," said Oung.

Judgments made by police on the moral character of the rape victims has much to do

with whether or not cases are prosecuted.

Oung described a rape that took place at the end of 1998 when two prostitutes had

an afternoon off from their work at a brothel. They decided to take a walk around

Wat Phnom where they were subsequently raped by four police. The prosecutor decided

the case was not worth pursuing when it was revealed that the victims were prostitutes.

Another prosecutor dropped a case on discovering the young victim had been a pickpocket.

Chheng Phath, the Crown Prosecutor at Kandal Court, said according to the law police

must pursue rape cases reported to them - regardless of their feelings toward the

victims, or whether or not the victims withdraw their complaint.

But he acknowledged it is difficult for the courts to conduct investigations as the

Government does not provide enough money for transportation costs. Phath said he

believes police know how rape cases are to be handled, but because police wages are

so low they try to negotiate financial settlements and take their cut.

Phath said compensation paid to the victim is not considered evidence of guilt if

the case is later prosecuted in court because the admission might have been coerced

by the police in their eagerness to get a percentage from the settlement.

The most important evidence, said Phath, is a certificate written by a doctor stating

that the woman was raped. If a woman goes to the hospital unaccompanied by court

or police staff, then a certificate obtained from a doctor is not admissible as evidence

because there is the possibility that the woman is simply lying to get her boyfriend

in trouble, he said.

So if the victim of rape delays reporting the assault because she is ashamed or afraid,

then her chance of receiving justice in court is slim indeed.

Oung said that in the three years she has worked at the CWCC, her staff has counselled

some 300 rape victims. Only seven of those victims had their attackers tried in court

and in February - for the first time - a CWCC client saw her rapist convicted. "We

were very happy," said Oung.

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