Reported rape cases increased by 12 percent last year compared to 2014, despite an overall drop in crime in 2015, according to an Interior Ministry report released on Tuesday.
“There were 253 cases of rape in 2015, compared to the year before when there were 226 cases,” the report says, adding that rape-murder cases decreased from six to four.
The trend is supported by data from rights group Adhoc, which recorded 238 rape cases nationwide last year, up from 201 in 2014. In all but 55 of the 238 cases, the victims were minors.
Chhan Sokunthea, head of the women and children’s program at Adhoc, said reported rapes likely represented a mere fraction of the actual number of attacks occurring across the country.
“We don’t know how many cases [there are because] the victims or family are scared, and do not report,” she said.
The scourge of rape in Cambodia is well established. A 2013 U.N. study found that one in five men—among more than 1,800 interviewed—had raped a woman at least once. More than half of those admitted to committing their first rape before the age of 20.
And while both government officials and rights workers say the problem is getting worse, the cause is a matter of much debate. Among the main factors identified are weak law enforcement, greater access to pornography through smartphones and increasing substance abuse.
Thida Khus, a prominent gender equality advocate, said that despite government initiatives to tackle the problem, social and legal hurdles persisted.
“So many people would rather be quiet and not report it,” she said. “Because of the discrimination in society, the implementation of the law still falls short of what women deserve.”
Ms. Khus said the number of reported rapes offered little insight into how effectively law enforcement officials dealt with those cases.
“How many are being prosecuted and how many are settled out of court?” she said.
According to the Interior Ministry’s report, the greatest number of rapes were reported in Kandal province (30), following by Battambang province (25).
Seng Nuch, deputy chief of the serious crimes bureau in Battambang, cited alcohol and drug use as contributing factors, but said rape was more common in rural areas where children were regularly left alone.
“The main thing that causes rape to happen is parents who leave their children alone at home, or when people go to a remote place alone and offenders seize an opportunity,” he said.
Chou Bun Eng, secretary-general of the Interior Ministry’s committee to fight human trafficking and sexual exploitation, said the ministry was still discussing the report’s findings and refused to comment on the figures.