TAKHMAO CITY, Kandal province – Capping a week in which footage emerged of a tycoon viciously beating a female entertainer and a man entering a Phnom Penh school to slap a teenage girl, some 160 security personnel marched down the riverside here on Friday chanting slogans to conclude the “Good Men Campaign.”
Organized by gender equality NGO Paz y Dessarollo, the campaign, which has cut a path through six provincial capitals in the past two years, trains police, military police and soldiers to fight violence against women, and then presents them to the public as both an example of how to behave and to thwart potential abuse.
“This event shows that uniformed personnel are committed to joining forces to protect women and it sends a message to all the men in the town that the local authorities will not support violence against women,” said Kim Thidakallianey, head of communications at Paz y Dessarollo.
“Fifty of them have done a two-day workshop in gender equality and they will go back to share what they learned with their colleagues.”
The officers marched through town to the beat of drums chanting “Good Men” and waving placards bearing messages such as “From a young age, I teach my children to understand the value of women.”
However, cases of law enforcement officials and security forces assaulting women or girls—and getting away with it—are far from rare.
On Tuesday, Yong Bunly, a 52-year-old moto-taxi driver in Preah Sihanouk province, said Kong Sophat, an officer at the provincial internal security bureau, was a free man despite having been sentenced in April to five years in prison for raping Mr. Bunly’s 11-year-old daughter.
Asked why Mr. Sophat was not incarcerated, provincial court clerk Teang Samnang said only that “The charge was changed from rape to purchasing sex.”
In March last year, Sin Pov, 48, a commune police chief in Takeo province’s Kiri Vong district, shot dead San Yin, 29, a karaoke parlor worker with whom he reportedly had intimate relations. The officer went on the run until September, when a provincial prosecutor said he was no longer wanted as the case had been settled out of court.
Thida Khus, a prominent advocate for gender equality, said on Thursday that those entrusted with the greatest power often abused it.
“There was a case in Takhmao two or three years ago when one police officer held down the karaoke worker while another officer raped her. The girl disappeared after and the men were never prosecuted, they didn’t even lose their jobs,” she said.
“Sometimes, when higher officials meet a beautiful woman, they will often say, you come with me and be my concubine or you die.”
But at the march in Takhmao on Friday, a number of police said they were committed to stamping out violence against women.
“Police have knowledge, I don’t know why they commit rape or any other crime,” said Chan Chamroeun. “Rape happens every day but we have different ideas.”
Kruy Kim Ngorn suggested that limitations on alcohol advertising and extending the reach of education initiatives into the deep countryside could help change disturbing trends of violence against women.
“I believe walking on the streets will make people understand how to be a good man but people living in remote areas they do not understand—every day newspapers publish stories of many rapes,” he said.
As the snaking parade curled around the bend at the northern end of the esplanade, Koy Phon, a self employed 42-year-old, sat at a coffee stall watching blankly.
“There is no way to stop [the abuse of women],” he said. “How can we stop it when it comes from people’s feelings. Some people have different ideas.”
“It’s hard to conclude if the police will be good men or not,” he added. “Those who enforce the law do not have to respect the law.”