Around Phnom Penh on Wednesday, Cambodian men said they were not surprised by shocking new statistics showing that 1 in 5 men in the country have committed rape at least once in their lives, with many saying the problem was confined to the provinces.
A U.N.-led survey into the prevalence of physical and sexual violence against women in the Asia-Pacific found that in Cambodia, 20.8 percent of men confessed to rape, half of whom had first committed rape under age 20, while gang rape, or “bauk” in Khmer, was more common in Cambodia than most all other countries in the region.
On hearing the statistics, Sinoun Sophorn, a 42-year-old tuk-tuk driver originally from Kandal province, pointed to each of his friends outside a hotel in Daun Penh and counted from one to five as they all laughed.
“I don’t think the numbers are possible in the city, but in the countryside it is different—they are not educated,” he said.
“Cambodia is developing slowly in the provinces. Where I come from, when the men drink they get violent, and young people growing up see men making violence against wives and children so they learn it is OK,” he said.
Cambodia and Sri Lanka were the only two countries in the survey for which the results applied on a national scale, rather than separated by a rural-urban division. And alcohol was surprisingly the least common reason cited for rape—at 14 percent, compared to the 27 percent who responded that fun or boredom were the reasons they committed rape.
Ly Sokheng, a 30-year-old accountant, said he was not shocked to learn that 67 percent of female Cambodian respondents believed that a woman should tolerate violence to keep a family together and said married women especially needed to be taught about their rights.
“Women need to learn that men cannot force them to have sex and that if they do, they can have a divorce. Of course, in rural areas if they are forced to marry for money, it becomes difficult because a man might become angry if his wife doesn’t want to have sex with him.”
Seventeen-year-old Ming Chan, a student at the Australia Center for Education, said that many factors might lead a Cambodian man to commit rape or physically assault a woman, which made it a difficult issue to fully understand.
“I believe the statistics could be true, but I think it is mostly in poor parts of the country—it is different in Phnom Penh because of education,” he said.
Regarding the young age of first-time perpetrators and the propensity for gang rape, Mr. Chan said that there were a lot of gangs in the countryside that create a violent kind of peer pressure, though gangs alone did not explain the culture of rape.
“Porn is also a problem—some people as young as 10 are addicted and after they see porn they view the world differently than before, they think that sex is all there is,” he said.