A Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutor Friday charged James Curtis Parks, 57, with rape and indecent assault after the US national was found Wednesday with a 14-year-old girl in his hotel room and arrested.
However, shortly before leveling the charges, Court Prosecutor Ngeth Sarath said Parks should not be seriously punished, since the girl was a consenting sex worker.
“It is a very complicated case because I found out [the girl] is a bar girl in Martinis. She is no virgin. She was taken by someone who fed her well and cleaned her up to be nice and attract guests,” said Ngeth Sarath.
The prosecutor’s comments drew criticism by child-rights workers, who say the girl’s consent, whether given under duress or not, should have no bearing on the case.
Yim Po, director of the Cambodian Center for the Protection of Children’s Rights, said Friday that Cambodian law clearly states that sex with minors is a serious crime, regardless of the issue of consent.
“The law does not say if the girl is a virgin or not a virgin…or if she is a prostitute,” Yim Po said.
“We should not blame the girl for [being a prostitute]. The girls do this for money. The serious punishment should be for the people who brought her to this man.”
Laurence Gray, child rights program manager at World Vision NGO, said Friday that whether the girl is a prostitute should not matter.
“It is a surprise that the court is taking the view that her seeming compliance exonerates the man,” Gray said.
Parks, a freelance photographer, was arrested at midday Wednesday at the Punchak Hotel in Daun Penh district following a tip to police that he had brought a young girl back to his room.
Tourism Police Chief Rien Vicheth said Thursday he charged Parks with having sex with a minor after he and the girl were found naked in the hotel room. The girl told police that she is a child prostitute and had sex with Parks on several occasions last month and on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, he said.
Parks denied Thursday he had sex with the girl, and claims he was framed by the girl’s pimps, who were afraid he was trying to take the girl out of prostitution.
Prosecutor Ngeth Sarath charged Parks Friday afternoon under Articles 42 and 33 of Untac Laws relating to rape and indecent assault. One of her alleged pimps, identified only as Yang, was charged under Article 4 of the trafficking laws, which relates to pimping.
Parks will be detained at the Tourism Police department until Monday morning, when he will be brought to court for questioning by a yet-to-be-appointed investigating judge.
Christian Guth, an international police expert who on Friday wrapped up a four-day workshop for deputy provincial police chiefs on child sexual exploitation issues, said one of his biggest challenges is to make Cambodian officials understand that sex with children is a crime.
Minister of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua said Friday that a plan she developed to blacklist and ban from Cambodia foreigners either suspected or convicted of sexually exploiting children has been accepted by Co-Minister of the Interior Sar Kheng. Mu Sochua said the procedures for compiling and enforcing the blacklist are currently being worked out.
At least one human rights worker has blasted the blacklist, calling it a travesty to the rule of law and open to abuse by unscrupulous people who could use the blacklist to target foreigners whether they are guilty or not.