Gang Rape Victim Seeks Convictions

It was supposed to be a 10-minute walk home for the young mother of three, who had spent a long day selling fruit drinks near the carnival area opposite Hun Sen Park.

Instead, it turned into a five-hour nightmare of fear, pain and humiliation, as a gang of boys and young men abducted and raped her on a deserted plot of land opposite the Buddhist Institute.

Sometimes, she cried as she recounted her brutal ordeal on the night of Feb 12 in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district.

But sometimes, she showed flashes of fury as she questioned why police so quickly released some of the 17 youths she said assaulted her.

“After three of the boys raped me, I wanted to kill myself, the 32-year-old said in an interview Wednesday. “But I was thinking of my children. Who would take care of my children? I strengthened my spirit because I had to live for my children.”

She said she is forcing herself to tell her story because she never wants another woman to suffer as she has. “If I keep quiet, people will never know the savagery that took place,” she said.

The youths, all in their mid- to late teens and early 20s, abducted the woman around midnight. Shoving a piece of wood in her mouth to gag her—and chipping two teeth in the process—the  drunken youths carried her to an isolated spot on the grounds of an abandoned government exhibition center beside the old Tonle Bassac Theater.

For five hours, she said, they took turns raping and sodomizing her, beating and cutting her arms, legs, breasts and buttocks with a knife. When she lost consciousness, they urinated on her, apparently to revive her so they could rape her again.

The woman first told her story on Monday, as the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center marked its third anniversary. The center provides sanctuary for women victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Hidden from the sight of guests and officials assembled for the occasion, her recounting of the story in a halting voice made a compelling case for why the center is needed.

She said the only time she heard the youths speak was when they fought over who would rape her next and when they said they would kill her if she told anyone of the attack.

“They fought each other to rape me. Like vultures fighting each other to eat human flesh….I lived through many regimes in Cambodia. But they were the cruelest,” she said.

On Valentine’s Day, two days after the attack, municipal military police arrested 17 youths. Ten, aged 17 to 22, were detained by police. Seven others were released.

Sim Hong, deputy municipal military police commander, said Tuesday that one was released because he was a minor while the other six were freed because they did not take part in the crime. “And their parents came to assure us that they would educate them to be good boys,” he said. He added the 10 who confessed are being held in Prey Sa prison.

The victim said she cannot understand how police could let the seven go before she could identify them. She said she did identify the 10 in custody for the municipal court. She said she believes the seven were released after their relatives contacted the police and worked out a deal.

Mong Mony Chacriya, investigating judge in the case, said Thursday that police did not tell him that seven had been re­leased. “But now that I know about this problem I will check with police [for] the reason,” he said.

Of those who were charged, some are students, some are unemployed and some are newspaper vendors, said Mong Mony Chacriya. He said they all confessed to the rape and said they were drunk at the time.

A women’s rights worker and a legal expert said this week that the decision to release suspects should have been made by the courts, not the military police.

“I think that even if they are under 16 years old they should have been detained….How can they be released without [punishment]?” said Chanthol Oung, director of the Cambodian Wo­men’s Crisis Center.

Sok Sam Oeun, director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said the law is clear that that the release or detention of suspects is the responsibility of the investigating judge. He said offenders aged 13 to 18 years can be de­tained for up to one month before trial.

Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, said the violence of the attack and others like it are a legacy of Cambodia’s 30 years of civil war. The accused youths are the children of a generation of Cambo­dians who lived through the trauma of the Khmer Rouge regime, she said.

The incident was chillingly similar to another February attack on an 11-year-old girl in Phnom Penh by four boys ages 7, 11, 14 and 16 who had been drinking beer. While all the boys attempted to have sex with the girl, only the 16-year-old was successful, Yim Symony, Prampi Makara district police chief, said earlier this month.

The girl was told after the attack she would be killed if she told anyone.

Although the four were arrested, the victim’s family dropped charges after they received money from the boys’ parents, police said.

“These [young] people do not have the [social] base for mental and emotional development….

The older, mature people in society have to help our youngsters out of that trap,” said Chea Vannath.

Rape is a serious offense which carries a prison sentence of 5 to 10 years. However, Article 68 of Untac law does allow the presiding judge to sentence below the minimum, said Sok Sam Oeun.

Regardless of the sentence the attackers receive, the mother of three says she is already living with her own sentence.

She will know if it is a life sentence when, three more months after the attack, she must take a test for HIV.

(Additional reporting by Ham Samnang and Phann Ana)



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