An 11-year-old girl probably felt happy and carefree while dancing with friends and family at her neighbor’s birthday party close to home. A teenage girl and a woman would have thought nothing of bicycling or walking out to a rice field to tend cattle as usual.
But these everyday activities turned out to be their last before the three victims were brutally raped and murdered this month.
After frantic searches in each case, relatives and neighbors were distraught to find their bodies. The first girl’s beaten and naked body was thrown under a bush, the teenager was submerged in a pond with a broken neck and the woman was apparently strangled in a rice field.
All the crimes took place in Prey Veng province and neighboring Kompong Cham province, where in February a woman’s body was found with string tied round her neck and burnt grass in her vagina.
No perpetrators have been arrested yet in any of the four cases, police said yesterday.
Meanwhile, child rapes reported by The Cambodia Daily this year have passed 60, an average of one every 43 hours.
Pung Chhiv Kek, president of rights group Licadho, said scarce official data made it difficult to determine if murders after rapes were more common in Cambodia than elsewhere.
Women and children are put at risk by a weak justice system, a culture of male domination, a lack of awareness and a tendency to blame the victim, she said. “When murders remain unpunished, perpetrators may prefer to kill the victim in order to escape justice.”
NGO-compiled statistics show that twice as many rape cases involve children, who are easier targets than adults, she added. “There is still a long way to go in order to efficiently fight this plague.”
Interior Ministry spokesperson Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak stressed that rapes happen in every country. “We cannot eliminate rape from the society of human beings, except in heaven,” Lt Gen Sopheak said.
The strongest measure that police are taking against the crime is simply enforcing the law and making sure rapists are punished, he said. “Victims may receive compensation, but the case must be sent to court.”
Rapes increased between 2009 and 2010, according to police statistics, but Lt Gen Sopheak said all of Cambodian society was responsible for preventing crime. “To make society clean, [everyone] must participate from all walks of life,” Lt Gen Sopheak said. He declined to elaborate as to what actions police are taking to fight violent crimes against women, other than to say: “We have strong measures, including law enforcement and public awareness.”
However, SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua put the blame for the rape increase squarely on impunity. “[V]iolence against women and children such as rape, gang rape and murder after such heinous assaults is the full result of the current culture of impunity that is allowed to exist because of the lack of political will by top leaders in the government,” she said by e-mail.
In Kompong Cham province’s Dambe district, residents continue to live in fear after the April 5 rape and murder of a 11-year-old girl who disappeared from a dance party, said Seda commune chief Sem Nem. “Villagers also have anger toward police, because they have not made arrests,” Mr Nem said. “With poor families, like the victim’s, police do not take care or interest in [solving] the crime.”
The commune police chief’s stepson was arrested but then released due to lack of evidence, said Lanh Satya, chief of the provincial serious penal bureau, noting that another suspect had been identified but had not yet been arrested.
More than two months ago in the same province’s Batheay district, a woman was allegedly raped, beaten and strangled, and had her vagina filled with grass then set aflame. As yet, police have not collected enough evidence for an arrest to be made, said Chan Hor, deputy chief of the provincial central judicial police bureau.
National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith said forensic investigations here could not compare to those in developed countries, despite an Australian government-funded program to train new district police divisions to conduct forensic examinations and collect evidence. “It is better than before, but we still lack equipment and material to support investigations,” Mr Chantharith said.
Steve Morrish, executive director of the anti-human trafficking group SISHA, said police regularly solve rape cases based on victims’ testimonies, but only manage to crack a few cases without witnesses. “These are few and far between because police do not have the resources and capabilities to forensically investigate crimes,” he said, noting that even equipment to collect DNA and fingerprints was unavailable. SISHA, supported by the Asia Foundation, has trained 330 members of the police in forensics and criminal investigations over the past year and a half, he noted.
Pok Panha Vichetr, executive director of the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, said the number of child rape victims at CWCC’s shelters rose last year, but chronic underreporting continues to hide the extent of the problem.
Often traumatized children and their families do not press for prosecution, she added. “It’s a kind of taboo, according to Khmer culture, and poor families cannot afford to,” Ms Panha Vichetr said, noting that sometimes families cannot even afford medical checkups for use as evidence.
Prey Veng provincial police are still waiting on a warrant to arrest a duck farmer who fled to Thailand after allegedly raping and murdering a 13-year-old girl found in a pond there on April 2, said Van Saroeurn, deputy provincial penal police chief. “We do worry about the security of women and children because two rape murders have happened” this month, Mr Saroeurn said. There have also been no arrests since a 48-year-old woman was allegedly raped and strangled in Prey Veng on April 8, he said.
Hor Maline, undersecretary of state at the Women’s Affairs Ministry, said the ministry was concerned about the rape and murder of women and girls.
“We try to take measures to prevent rape by spreading awareness of the law to local authorities and villagers,” Ms Maline said. However, the ministry and Unicef have not yet begun a long-planned survey into why rapes happen, she said, suggesting that the problem was related to pornography, alcohol and drug use.