Only a minority of rapes in Cambodia go to court with perpetrators often avoiding prosecution by paying off their victims’ families.
Amnesty International’s 2010 report “Breaking the Silence – Sexual Violence in Cambodia” found that due to social stigma only a small proportion of rapes were reported to police. Often those that were ended in illegal financial settlements between the victims’ families and the rapists.
Chhan Sokunthea, head of ADHOC’s women’s and children’s rights section, admitted it was common for perpetrators and victims’ families to negotiate cash settlements to avoid a court case. “The victims’ families, most of them are poor, they need the money and they don’t know about the law,” said Sokunthea.
In some cases, the police would take money from the perpetrators to convince the victim’s family to accept a cash payment, she added.
Another disincentive to pressing charges was lack of faith in the judicial system. Most families believed the court system was corrupt and they wouldn’t get a fair hearing. “The family would rather get compensation from the perpetrator’s family,” said Sokunthea.
The problem largely stems from the fact that police officers in Cambodia are poorly paid and are open to what is called “tea money”.
“The salary of the police, of the local authorities, is low and if they [are not] corrupt how can they survive and live?” said Sokunthea.
Mok Chito, chief of the Interior Ministry’s Central Justice Department, said police officers were not allowed to offer a compromise settlement between a victim’s family and an accused perpetrator.
“Police had been trying to inform villagers and NGOs to let parents know about the law and to make sure their children were not left unattended,” added Chito.