kompong thom province – The human rights NGO Adhoc transferred Kompong Thom’s latest rape victim to Phnom Penh on Tuesday so she could seek refuge at a women’s shelter in the capital.
The 14-year-old girl had spent the past seven days in a hospital in Kompong Thom town, recovering from a vicious attack by three young men whom district police say have yet to be arrested.
Kompong Thom appears to have one of the highest rates of rape incidents in the country, local human rights officials said, though accurate statistics are difficult to determine since many sex offenses go unreported.
The girl, the oldest of seven children, found her way to Kompong Thom after leaving her family in neighboring Preah Vihear province, human rights workers said. She and her 11-year-old sister had set off on their own to find work and escape the hardships of home.
The girl’s mother, a widow whose husband was killed in a land mine explosion, could not afford to feed or clothe the children on her meager income as a street vendor.
Once they left home, however, the girl and her sister were separated shortly after arriving in Kompong Thom.
According to human rights workers, the victim found comfort among the town’s homeless street children and took up shelter with them beneath Kompong Thom’s main bridge along the Tonle Sen, where she stayed until Aug 19.
Late that Tuesday night, the girl went out along the riverbank in search for food and money. It was there that she was attacked, rights workers said.
On that night, according to human rights workers, the girl became the 17th reported rape victim in the province in the last six months.
Hor Neath, the province’s Adhoc coordinator, said he receives an average of at least two reported rape cases each month, all of whose victims are female and most of them minors. In May, he said, a 4-year-old girl was raped in Santuk district’s Kompong Thmor commune.
Licadho receives about 10 to 15 reports of rape per month from 12 different provinces, an Adhoc official said.
“The problem here is bigger than other provinces outside of Kompong Thom,” Hor Neath said.
He said that areas outside the main town are so remote, villagers and police are ill-informed about laws.
Often times, he said, they resolve rape cases through compensation, with an average payment of $200 to the victim, rather than through the courts.
“The authorities do not carry out their own state law, so offenders do it again. They rape a girl, pay money, then rape another girl and pay money again,” he said.
Last year, human rights officials reported that only 12 percent of reported rapes are brought to trial, and only 7 percent of those result in convictions.
The Licadho official said that poor implementation of the law is a widespread problem, not limited to Kompong Thom.
“Local authorities try very hard to support cases through compensation outside the court, [because] that means local authorities and police can get some money from that compensation,” the official said.
But Kompong Thom provincial Police Chief Chhim Sakhom denied his officers encouraged out-of-court settlements.
“I never do compensation for the victims and the offenders,” he said.
Local human rights officials said the province’s location in the heart of the country also makes it easy for sex criminals in Kompong Thom to flee to other places, which, according to the Stung Sen district police chief, appears to be what happened to the three young men allegedly responsible for the latest rape. The offenders are no longer in the district, the police chief said.
And not only is legal retribution lacking for rape victims, so, too, is government support, Hor Neath said.
Oum Chenda, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Women’s and Veterans’ Affairs, said the ministry does not have a way of measuring the incidence of rape in the country and has little resources to combat the problem.
“We have no support yet in the fight against rape,” she said. “Rape is still the unresolved issue for us.”