Last Thursday evening (17th April), the traditionally boisterous New Year celebrations
sadly degenerated into mob violence, largely directed at women and girls. Around
Wat Phnom, a mob of about a hundred young men verbally and physically abused every
female they encountered. On the riverfront, male youths formed two lines, and motorists
and cyclists were forced to "run the gauntlet".
Men on motorbikes and in cars were generally allowed to pass relatively unhindered,
but women and girls were pushed, slapped, sometimes dragged from their motos, and
chased through the streets by a howling mob of up to a hundred young men. This wasn't
the good-natured play and throwing of water that characterized earlier celebrations.
This behaviour was sexist, ugly, and shameful.
Groups of youths on motorbikes rode up and down the riverfront, chanting and yelling,
in a manner disturbingly reminiscent of January 29th. At around 1am, armed police
arrived, but by then the majority of the mob had dispersed.
We would like to believe that this behaviour is uncharacteristic, but there is growing
evidence of young men in Phnom Penh pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior,
particularly towards women.
Recent research has highlighted the increasing incidence of bowk - gang-rape of young
women by groups of largely middle-class youths.
Parents, teachers, local authorities, and youths themselves have a duty to curtail
this behaviour before it becomes the norm.
We hope that this letter, and the recent press articles on gang rape, will help to
stimulate public debate on this issue, and provide a platform for addressing this
- David & Sharon Wilkinson - PO Box 1642 - Phnom Penh