Continuing a three-year upward trend in reported rape cases, numbers recorded so far in 2003 suggest that rape cases are still on the rise, according to the latest figures by the human rights group Adhoc.
Between March and August, Adhoc investigators recorded 178 cases of rape, most of them occurring in Battambang province. The six-month figures are more than half of the 279 cases reported in all of last year, according to the organization’s 2002 report.
Adhoc Director Thun Saray suggested on Thursday that the main cause for this growing phenomenon is the impunity for rape offenders. Of the 178 cases recorded so far, suspects were arrested in only 40 percent of the cases, the report states.
Adhoc found that in some cases, when victims chose to settle out of court with their offenders, legal officials simply dropped the accusations and did not press charges.
“This is unacceptable; offenders should be severely punished by the court even if the victim has agreed to some sort of compensation,” Thun Saray said. “The fact is that most concerned officials don’t even have the will to solve the matter. The police and the court officials are the ones to blame for this impunity.”
In a number of other cases, victims chose not to go through the legal system because they had no confidence in the court process, the report states. The report notes that some police officers take bribes from the alleged rapists or accept payment from influential people to have cases dropped.
The report also highlights the young ages of the victims and offenders. Seventy-eight percent of the victims were younger than 18, and half of that figure were children between the ages of 3 and 10. Adhoc recorded that
17 percent of offenders were boys younger than 17.
In Pursat province on Wednesday the provincial court sentenced a 19-year-old boy to 10 years in prison after he admitted raping a 14-month-old baby girl in his village last April.
Cambodian law allows for jail sentences of between 10 and 20 years for the crime of rape. Presiding Judge Sun Neatheavy said he handed down the lighter jail term because the offender was illiterate, drunk at the time of the attack and only 19-years-old. Human rights workers were outraged by the judge’s decision.