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
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,"
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
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.