Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rise in reported sex crimes continues three-year trend

Rise in reported sex crimes continues three-year trend

Rise in reported sex crimes continues three-year trend

Reports of Cambodian children falling victim to sex crimes such as rape and human

trafficking rose last year according to several human rights NGOs such as Licadho

and the Cambodia Women Crisis Center (CWCC).

Despite the increase in reported cases, the groups cautioned the rise might reflect

better reporting rather that a significant jump in the actual number of incidents.

LICADHO, which closely monitors such incidents, said more cases of rape and sexual

abuse were coming to light for a number of reasons.

"Licadho has received an increase in reported cases of rape and indecent assault

which may be linked to community awareness raising, better access to NGO or police

services and more media coverage," wrote Naly Pilorge, the organization's director,

by email.

The NGO investigated 146 cases of rape and indecent assault in 2001. That rose 23

percent to 179 cases in 2002. The trend for 2003 showed about a 12 percent increase

over the previous year, said Pilorge.

The government's statistics showed a rise as well, particularly during 2003.

The Ministry of Interior's (MoI) project on sex crimes, the Law Enforcement Against

Sexual Exploitation of Children Project, reported 372 rape and trafficking cases

and that 208 offenders were arrested in 2002. By November 2003, at least 415 cases

of rape had been investigated and 363 offenders taken to jail for the year.

While the increases are relatively modest, they represent only a fraction of the

total number of cases, estimates Legal Aid of Cambodia. The NGO figures that 60 to

70 percent of sexual assault cases may be settled out of court, usually through cash

payments.

Such transactions typically enrich 'witnesses' and police officials at the expense

of victims. In one case documented by Licadho, only $10 of a $200 police-brokered

settlement went to the victim.

And when cases are ultimately heard by courts, the law is rarely carried out. The

typical conviction rate for rape crimes is about 20 percent. Yet ADHOC reported in

2002 that out of 297 reported rape cases, only 4 percent of the offenders who were

convicted had been tried according to legal procedures.

"The courts are not doing enough to investigate and convict sex offenders whether

they are Cambodian or foreigners," wrote Pilorge by email. She said the courts

are fully capable of prosecuting offenders if they take the charges seriously.

The increase in reported cases comes while a number of foreigners accused of sex

crimes have made headlines. Most recently, two American citizens, Richard Arthur

Schmidt, 61, and Balke Alan Respiny, 47, and a French citizen, Olivier Frenoy, 34,

were charged with sexual offenses in December 2003.

Mam Somaly, president of AFESIP, a French child-welfare NGO, said the arrests of

foreigners accused of rape and debauchery was rising.

"Right now, it is very much on the increase," said Somaly, pointing to

the indictment of foreigners including German and Japanese citizens in November 2003.

But in spite of the string of high-profile cases of foreigners accused of debauchery,

Cambodians perpetrate most such crimes. Christian Guth, a law enforcement expert

in the sex crimes unit at MoI, said foreigners were implicated in less than 10 percent

of debauchery cases.

The [enforcement] efforts by the police are not specifically against foreigners,"

said Guth. "Most people arrested are Cambodian."

He said that police were acting on information from NGOs that were tracking suspected

foreign pedophiles since police seldom conduct their own independent investigations.

"These NGOs feel more free to investigate foreigners since it's easier because

they are more visible and it interests more people," he said. "[But] every

day, every week we have cases of rape of children committed by Cambodian people."

Government spokesman Kheiu Sopheak said the enforcement effort by police would send

a message to sex tourists that they are no longer tolerated in Cambodia. However,

he did not comment on a larger strategy by law enforcement to combat sex crimes in

Cambodian society.

"This is not a crackdown. This is the law," he said. "Cambodia is

not a sanctuary for those people. Our sons, our daughters must not be violated by

those people."

Mu Sochua, Minister of the Ministry of Women's and Veterans' Affairs, said that Cambodian

children who are raped or trafficked still do not receive justice because of a corrupt

court system.

In order to curb sexual abuse, the government should value children as one of its

highest priorities, she said. That meant regulating the sex industry in nightspots

such as restaurants and hotels and enforcing Hun Sen's 2001 ban on karaoke bars now

operating as beer gardens and restaurants.

However, she noted some encouraging signs among the police and judiciary.

"It's better now," she said. "I see police cracking down and arresting

people who commit rape, trafficking, and pedophilia in Cambodia. The court has also

changed their attitude slightly."

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