Last week’s arrest of German national Andreas Glockner in Siem Reap on charges that he sexually assaulted five Angkor Wat souvenir sellers marks the fourth arrest of a Western man on sex-abuse charges in the last two months.
Police and human rights officials, however, are hesitant to say that the trend marks a campaign on the part of government police to crack down on the sex trade in Cambodia, or to cleanse the image of the country.
Police had been looking for Glockner since late May, when he fled the country ahead of his would-be captors. He later returned to Cambodia and was arrested when his alleged victims spotted him Wednesday in front of Angkor Wat.
In early August, two Australians, Bart Lauwaert and Clint Betteridge, were arrested in Siem Reap after 10 girls, aged 10 to 18, alleged that the two men sexually assaulted them. Days before that, Briton Derek Baston was arrested in a Svay Pak brothel after police say they found him engaging in sexual acts with an 11-year-old girl.
In July, Alain Berruti of Italy was convicted of debauchery and sentenced to 10 years in prison. That jail term is the most stringent ever handed to a foreigner for debauchery in a Cambodian court.
Pierre Legros of Afesip—an NGO that helps women in precarious situations—said the recent arrests represent a natural progression. More and more foreigners are coming to Cambodia for sex, so it is natural for more arrests to be made, he said.
But “a good police team can arrest 20 or 40 people per day. They have highlighted some cases, but they do not have good results,” he said.
The UN and NGOs have been pressuring the government to address child sex and thus improve the image of Cambodia, Legros said. The arrests, he said, are partly the results of that advocacy campaign.
Chum Sophy, chief general administrative officer for the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, which is caring for the victims in the Siem Reap cases, said the arrests have been a result of a greater willingness of victims to come forward and make complaints.
Witnesses in one Sihanoukville case have been hailed by human rights workers for their bravery in testifying that French national Pierre Guynot sadistically assaulted young boys.
The Sihanoukville court ruled in July that it was unable to convict Guynot. The lawyer for the alleged victims requested a re-trial on Sept 2.
Phoung Sophy, a deputy chief in the Ministry of Interior’s anti-sex crimes unit, said police must take care to gather enough evidence when charging Westerners. Janet Ashby, adviser to the Cambodian National Project Against Trafficking in Women and Children, agrees.
“Police need to take a long time to investigate these cases because they cannot just arrest someone without evidence,” Ashby said.
But arrests in Siem Reap indicate both a crackdown and a show, according to Ashby. Police realize that when they arrest Westerners, they will receive favorable publicity, she said.
Chhoeung Sokhom, deputy police commissioner for Banteay Meanchey province, painted a grim picture of enforcement in his province at a seminar on law enforcement against sexual exploitation and trafficking of children on Wednesday.
“The court only sentences people who are poor,” he said. “Punishment is sometimes only one year for violent or incestuous rape; sometimes offenders are released without detention.”
Chum Sophy said local and international offenders should be punished with the same severity. And police aren’t ignoring the cases of local offenders, she said.
She pointed to a debauchery case now being prosecuted in Siem Reap in which a Cambodian father sexually assaulted his 15-year-old daughter in May.
But, Phoung Sophy said, local offenders and victims are not always familiar with the debauchery law.
“When I arrest them, the offenders ask me, ‘Why are you arresting me? I only had sex with an underage girl.’ Not sharing the information about the law is the weakness of the government,” he said.