Nobody can say for sure how long the practice of gang raping (or bauk) prostitutes
has been known in Cambodia.
Tong Soprach, who has been interviewing victims and perpetrators for the CARE International
Playing Safe Project (PSP), says the word bauk seems to have appeared in the language
in 1998, but he first heard about the practice at high school in 1996.
"I remember hearing classmates talk about being involved in gang rape experiences.
They did not call it bauk. I didn't really understand what it was about then,"
But when, as a BA Honors student, he conducted interviews of young men in 2002 for
the first phase of this project, he was shocked by what he heard. "This is about
groups of middle-class young men, aged 18 to 23, getting drunk together and deciding
to share a prostitute. It's not planned ahead. One or two will hire a prostitute
on the street and generally take her to a guest house and there the others will join
"There are several motivating factors. It's financially cheaper; they do not
expect to be punished because the victim is a prostitute; it's an expression of masculinity;
there is peer pressure on anyone who might be reluctant to participate; and there
is the sharing, akin to sharing a meal or alcohol with your buddies."
Now Soprach has seen it from the victims' side. He designed, organized, managed and
published the first gang-rape survey for CARE, funded by the European Union, and
the UN Population Fund.
The survey studies a scenario in which one or two youths hire a woman for consensual
sex. She is taken to a hotel or guest house where numerous other men join in and
coerce the woman into having sex with them all without permission, often accompanied
Some participants in the survey defined bauk as several men having sex with one woman,
regardless of whether the sex was consensual or coerced; others said bauk occurred
only if the woman withdrew her consent during sequential intercourse and was forced
to continue. The survey acknowledged that while researchers might interpret bauk
as meaning "gang rape", some respondents might be meaning group sex, possibly
The report was initially titled the "National Gang Rape Survey" but a month
later, on July 26, PSP announced it had been retitled: "Gang Rape - the perspectives
of moto-taxi drivers across Cambodia."
This was after 100 rush photocopies had been distributed at the Non-Consensual Sex
Conference in Phnom Penh on June 30.
PSP spokesman Luke Bearup said: "It was felt that the term 'national' in the
title could imply this was a government-sanctioned or government-initiated survey."
He declined to comment on whether there had been pressure from project donors, and
was unable to explain why the title wording was not raised at an earlier stage.
However, the Post understands that CARE and its donors were upset that the report
purported to be a national survey, when in fact it involved interviews with 192 motodup
drivers in 20 provinces and four cities by 24 interviewers who were trained by telephone
Bearup also defended the methodology used in the survey.
The report noted that motodups provided second-hand knowledge of bauk and this was
stated as a possible weakness in the research. But he said motodups were arguably
more suitable [than victims and perpetrators] for a quantitative study as they had
less or no fear of self-incrimination or shame.
About 80 young people attended the first two days of the conference and they drafted
recommendations to government officials including the establishment of three rape
units at existing health centers, rape-sensitization training for judges in the court
system, law enforcement for all victims, advocacy campaigns to dispel myths about
rape and health education for the young.
The Playing Safe Project people said they knew of only one instance of criminal conviction
for a violent gang rape by seven men, and it did not involve prostitutes. In May
this year, in Kampong Chhnang court, a 15-year-old boy was sentenced to 16 years'
jail and fined $750 for his part in the gang rape of three women, two aged 14 and
the third 21, who were returning at midnight from a relative's engagement party.
His six accomplices, aged between 16 and 20, who were then still at large, were sentenced
in absentia to 20 years' jail each and fined a total of $2,250. The provincial court
director said the victims were beaten with chains and iron bars to weaken them before
they were raped.
In the survey nearly two-thirds of the motodups said they had knowledge of the practice
The survey was unable to conclude, because of the small sample, whether gang rape
was spreading or not.
Tong Soprach said the gang rape of prostitutes was becoming visible as a social issue
because of the willingness of both victims and perpetrators to speak about their
experiences. "However, it is [arguable] that gang rape is a very visible symptom
of a much larger societal problem of non-consensual sex in Cambodia that is kept
Soprach said it was clear that commercial sex workers (CSW) were not the only women
who are raped, but they might be the only women willing to talk publicly about it.
As such, "rather than being marginalized and 'helped', perhaps CSW hold the
potential for helping the rest of society through being at the forefront of promoting
human rights and gender awareness."
Another significant factor in efforts to reduce rape was the willingness of the young
men to talk openly with or in front of motodup drivers about their involvement in
bauk. They were unlikely to do this out of feelings of regret, but more likely to
be telling of their exploits. "This behaviour would suggest the perpetrators
do not see their actions as being shameful enough to be worth hiding," Soprach
Soprach's report concluded that interventions need careful planning, with urgency,
"lest the practice of gang rape become normalized as a modern right of passage
among Cambodian young males."
"Young people need to see that bauk is a criminal offence and see perpetrators
prosecuted in the courts."
Chhoun Sreyneath, a 27-year-old prostitute, told the Post that nearly all sex workers
she knows are raped or threatened with rape and nobody helps them.
She said she has been raped three times by gangs, from seven to 18 people each time.
She said she was sold to a brothel owner in Phnom Penh when she was 21. Sreyneath
is one of about 100 sex workers who solicit at night from 8pm to 4:30am at the park
near Independence Monument.
Locals call these sex workers srey boay day, which means "hand-waving girls".
And most have their pimps lying in the flower beds waiting to collect money from
Sreyneath said one night she was put into a duck cage and raped by seven people in
Takhmau district. They used plastic bags for condoms.
Sreyneath didn't know that there were a lot of people waiting to rape her and she
also didn't know where she was taken to because at the beginning there was one motodup
driver who bargained the price with her - $5.
Srey Ka, 24, a bargirl, said she is often "bauked" by a group. Most of
them were drug addicts. Sometimes they took her to sleep at a guest house and sometimes
to their houses, or into the forest and even in the cow pen. Ka said she earns around
$100 a month and has nearly 100 sex customers a month including "baukers".
She said one night she was paid $10 and taken to a cow pen in Kandal, where seven
men were waiting. "They raped me in turn and hit me. I did not shout for help.
I am afraid of being killed because a lot of bar or beer girls had their throats
cut while trying to escape or shout for help," Ka said.
Dr Kek Galabru, director of LICADHO, said group rape held greater risk of infection
by HIV/AIDS for both victims and rapists.
She said Cambodia had no law clearly defining bauk and no law to punish the offenders.
Prostitutes were raped and abused not only by gangs, but also by police.
Another hand-waving girl, Lun Da, 27, said she was "bauked" many times
by gangsters and police, from 10 to 15 times per month.
Da looks older than her age and her lips are swollen. "They always force me
to give blow jobs. If I do not agree, they will beat me."
Da said once when she woke from a faint after being "bauked" by nine gangsters,
she was raped again by two Takhmau police while she was asking them for help. "The
police raped me and took all the money that I had. I walked home from there about
twelve kilometers without any help. I was very tired and nearly ready to die."
She said she wanted to quit her job. "I hate being a prostitute so much; but
if I stop, my brothers and sisters will not have food to eat and no money to look
after my older sister who is living with HIV/AIDS."
Galabru said: "We cannot say whether rape abuse has increased or not this year;
we only know that now victims dare to tell us about their problems."
Luke Bearup said: "We don't know if bauk is spreading, or if it's a passing
"The Khmer reaction [to publicity about bauk] is to lock up their daughters,
but it's male behaviour that must change. Parents must realize that it could be their
sons who are the rapists," Bearup said.
"Women students are vulnerable; some have to work at night. There is also a
big social change occurring from arranged marriage to dating. The danger is all with
the women. They take all the risks, particularly if it's a sexual relationship."
He said the Playing Safe Project was strongly supported by the Cambodian Criminal
Justice Assistance Project. "They have done the gender training. The police
administration are interested and supportive but at the lower level there is a totally
different attitude. Because the police are on such low pay, prostitutes are a target
for shakedowns and kickbacks. We need to see a radical shift so the police realize
that if they target the bauk gangs there is more money to be made, particularly because
they are middle class.
"Guest houses need to recognize the signs of a bauk. One woman and many guys
is a sure sign. Don't rent the room. Tell the police."