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Spate of rapes fuels debate over Cambodia’s response to sexual assault

Hang Meas TV Deputy Director General Meas Rithy offers what critics characterised as an insincere on-air apology for inflammatory comments he made on rape that caused a social media uproar.
Hang Meas TV Deputy Director General Meas Rithy offers what critics characterised as an insincere on-air apology for inflammatory comments he made on rape that caused a social media uproar. Photo supplied

Spate of rapes fuels debate over Cambodia’s response to sexual assault

The Kingdom saw a spate of rapes – mostly against children – over the last few days, adding further fuel to a charged debate over the country’s response to sexual assault, even as government officials sought to dampen criticism of a TV presenter who made inflammatory victim-blaming comments on air.

At least five cases were brought to the attention of Cambodian authorities in the past few days, according to the Child Protection Unit’s James McCabe.

Poipet Deputy Military Police Chief Sar Sopheaktra said suspect Chrun Reth, 36, had been arrested on Thursday for the alleged repeated rape of a 10-year-old relative in Banteay Meanchey. “The child claimed that the suspect had raped her since she was 6 years old, but the man denied it, and said that he raped her when she was 8 years old,” Sopheaktra said.

The child was afraid and did not tell her parents of the years of abuse she endured, though it eventually came to light after the girl’s mother noticed she was acting strangely and filed a complaint.

Also on Thursday, in Kampot, Nop Sovanbotum, 36, was arrested for allegedly raping a 13-year-old child relative in his care, according to Dambok Khpos Commune Police Chief Mom Hak.

“They requested authorities to educate him and release him, because they are a poor family with four children and it is difficult for them because of the law,” Hak said.

On the same day, in Battambang, Oum Nhanh, 49, allegedly attempted to rape an 11-year-old girl. Battambang District Police Chief Pang Heang said the victim claimed the suspect had threatened to kill her,but suggested the girl may have initially agreed to the attempted assault, while also noting that as a child, the girl was not capable of giving informed consent.

On Friday, meanwhile, a 17-year-old was arrested for the rape of an 8-year-old victim in Kratie, and a 16-year-old suspected of the rape of a 7-year-old victim in Kampong Thom remains at large, the CPU’s McCabe said.

“Any abuse of children is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” McCabe said yesterday. “Cambodia has had huge improvements over the years seeing the end of civil settlements for crimes against children, so they’re on the right track.”

“Unfortunately, some perhaps ill-informed comments by individuals have suggested we still have a little way to go,” he said, referring to statements from Meas Rithy, of Hang Meas TV, who told female victims to “not resist” and “let them rape you”.

“It’s widely accepted that women are not responsible for crimes being committed against them, and neither are children for that matter,” McCabe said.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs issued a statement late on Thursday – a week after Rithy’s comments aired – saying it “regretted” his remarks, but noting that he “acknowledged his mistake and apologised publicly”.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, however, said a complaint to his ministry, not an online petition – like the one circulated to demand the apology – was the best way to deal with the case, suggesting women’s rights advocates wanted to get “popularity” or “destroy the anchor’s credit”.

ActionAid’s Rachana Bun defended the online petition she helped initiate – which gained almost 2,000 signatures – saying it was unacceptable for a high-profile commentator to blame a murdered rape victim.

“As a woman and a citizen, we all have to do something in this kind of situation so we can contribute to make our society more equal . . . and we can also start to question the narrative around blaming the victim.”

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