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Youth survey finds gang rape, violence common

Youth survey finds gang rape, violence common

The first quantitative survey of Phnom Penh's middle-class youth has found a high

prevalence of gang rape of prostitutes, widespread fear of youth gangs in schools,

and the 'alarming' popularity of the methamphetamine drug yaba.

The survey, Youth attitudes about gangs, violence, drugs and theft, was conducted

among 580 young people aged 18-28 in the capital in late September. It was organized

by local NGO Gender and Development for Cambodia (GAD), and research coordinator

Luke Bearup said some of the study's findings were extremely alarming.

"The most concerning thing that has come out of it is the extremely high levels

of gang rape," Bearup said. "It is frightening to think that 20 men can

rape a women at the same time, and consider this a fun, bonding experience between

males."

GAD's study built on qualitative research by Population Services International (PSI)

earlier this year, in which many young men spoke openly of gang rape of prostitutes,

known as bowk.

GAD's quantitative analysis found that 60 percent of male university students interviewed

knew others involved in bowk, as did 34 percent of male school students.

"Through this we can potentially gain a general knowledge of the prevalence

of gang rape as a pattern of behavior amongst young people," the report states.

The low level of awareness of bowk among women indicates it is a secretive activity

carried out by males. GAD stated this showed a clear need for a substantial amount

of human rights education work.

Just over 11 percent of men thought bowk was 'something guys do for fun, a bonding

experience between friends', while more than 12 percent of males thought it was 'Okay

- doesn't hurt anyone, because prostitutes see many men'. Only around 13 percent

of youths of both sexes thought the act constituted rape, or viewed it as wrong because

the women did not give permission.

Respondents were also asked about violence, and whether they had ever witnessed an

assault where the victim deserved to be assaulted.

"Out of the 580 surveyed, an incredible 73.4 percent of respondents stated that

they had witnessed such an assault," Bearup said. "Clearly these responses

suggest that in some circumstances violence is seen as a necessary and right means

of dealing with others."

Bearup said GAD undertook the research after community concern at high levels of

youth gang violence and the abuse of young people. Nearly 70 percent of those interviewed

were school or university students, and 83 percent described themselves as of average

wealth. Bearup said this was significant.

"These issues are thought of as being lower-class problems, problems of street

kids," he said, "but these results indicate that they are the concerns

faced by everyday young people and the middle-class, not just the poor."

Another major finding was that around two-thirds of school students and 60 percent

of university students were concerned about youth gangs, which led to a fear of attending

classes.

Focus groups with researchers also showed that students, especially girls , were

terrified of youth gangs.

Drugs were another major interview topic. Slightly more than half of high school

students stated that yaba was popular. It was also regarded as the drug of choice

when compared with cocaine, alcohol, heroin, marijuana and cigarettes.

"And yaba was the drug about which people had the least understanding of the

potential damaging effects," GAD's Bearup said. "More people recognized

marijuana as being bad for their health than they did amphetamines."

The report recognizes that its findings raise clear challenges for NGOs. "It

has been ten years of human rights campaigning, yet some of the results suggest that

we have failed to make a significant impact on the 13 to 28 year old age group, which

comprises 35.4 percent of the population," it noted.

GAD's gender trainer Tong Soprach said the research findings would be distributed

to the government and NGOs early next year.

"We will use this research to improve our ability to conduct gender awareness

training with young people, and strengthen advocacy to stop violence against women

and children." Soprach said.

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