Rape Cases Break With Trend of Families Staying Silent

A fisherman who repeatedly raped his 11-year-old stepdaughter was arrested in Stung Treng province on Monday after the victim’s mother filed a complaint, officials said on Tuesday, while a second fisherman was arrested under similar circumstances in Phnom Penh.

The cases are both symptomatic of one trend in the country—a high rate of sexual violence against children—and antithetical to another—the tendency of families to deal with such attacks without involving officials.

Stung Treng provincial police arrested the 37-year-old fisherman after his wife filed a complaint alleging he had raped her daughter during five separate fishing trips, deputy provincial police chief Horm Buntel said.

The suspect confessed and was set to be questioned at the provincial court today, he added.

In another case, a 33-year-old fisherman was arrested in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changva district on Monday after police received a complaint from the suspect’s sister-in-law, said Koh Dach commune police chief Tep Vanndina.

He said the victim’s mother alleged the suspect had raped her daughter—his niece—multiple times since June. The suspect confessed during questioning and would be sent to the municipal court today, said deputy district police chief Ek Sreyvuth.

While the wheels of justice appeared to be moving in those two cases, studies have shown that only a small proportion of parents report sexual abuse to authorities, with many more choosing to conceal the assault rather than risk their children being further victimized by bullying and social stigma.

“The domestic violence law adopted in 2005 states that anyone must report this to local authorities or the courts, and that domestic violence is not acceptable. But in practice there are a lot of cases that are unreported,” said Ros Sopheap, executive director of Gender and Development Cambodia, a gender equality NGO.

In 2013, a report by Unicef found 4.4 percent of women and 5.6 percent of men aged 18 to 24 in Cambodia had experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18, and that many had been abused on multiple occasions during childhood.

Economic dependence on men is also an issue for women whose children are victims of sexual assault, Ms. Sopheap added, often detering mothers from reporting an abusive partner out of fear they would be forced to remove their child from school.

There is also a deep lack of faith in the justice system, as revealed in a study conducted by the World Health Organization in November last year. Of more than 3,000 women surveyed, only 6.5 percent of those who reported being a victim of domestic abuse had turned to police.

Rodrigo Montero, gender adviser for the German development agency GIZ, said a range of factors often led families to keep quiet.

“The majority of women and children who suffer sexual violence do not report the abuses because of fear to suffer from social stigma and further retaliation from their perpetrators, their lack of trust in authorities and sometimes their inability to recognize these acts as serious crimes,” he said.

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