The Phnom Penh Appeals Court Wednesday upheld a 3-year-old acquittal of a man accused of raping a mentally retarded woman in Battambang, saying there was a lack of evidence.
Appeals Court Judge Pol Neang, who presided over the case, also said the victim failed to identify Khem Rom, who was originally acquitted on a rape charge on Oct 5, 1999, in a Battambang provincial court.
The case highlights growing concerns that the rape law, which was amended by the National Assembly last November and went to the Senate in early December, still might not be adequate to bring accused rapists to justice.
“The recent amendments are good because they shows the government has decided to strengthen the rape laws,” said Chantol Oung, executive director of the Women’s Crisis Center, which handled 174 rape cases from January to November in 2000.
“But the levels of convictions [for accused rapists] should still be higher.”
The length of sentences served by convicted rapists is also an issue the Women’s Crisis Center is examining, she said. On the average, a convicted rapist will serve between one to three years.
The prison terms for a convicted rapist under the proposed rape law amendments are from 5 to 10 years, or 15 to 20 years for rape under aggravated circumstances, Chantol Oung said.
An individual convicted of raping a person who is mentally or physically impaired would be convicted of aggravated rape, said a legal expert who has studied the rape law extensively.
Gathering evidence is difficult since little forensics work is done in Cambodia, and because in many provinces, the victim will not report the case until one or two weeks after the incident, Chantol Oung said.
The acquittal of Khem Rom serves as a textbook example of the difficulties prosecuting a rape case, said one court official. Although the woman said she was raped, she could not identify Khem Rom as the assailant.
One witness to the crime said he saw Khem Rom and the woman enter an abandoned school in Battambang, the official said.
The witness, whose testimony was read in the appeals court, said he could not actually see Khem Rom raping the woman because the abandoned school was poorly lighted, but heard the woman screaming, the court official said. The witness then saw the accused leaving the school house, followed shortly after by the woman.