More than three times as many females were sexually assaulted in 1999 than in 1998, according to a report by local rights group Adhoc.
The report, compiled by Adhoc field workers in all parts of the country, states that 21 rapes were reported in all of 1998; for 1999, that figure had risen to 70.
More than half of those assaults—50—were on girls younger than 18, apparently because attackers believe they are less likely to carry the HIV virus that causes AIDS.
Mu Sochua, Minister for Women’s Affairs, said Tuesday that the increasing number of rapes is an issue the government takes extremely seriously.
“The society is giving the wrong message to men, a very severe, negative picture of women that allows men to say women can be bought, traded, raped and abused and nothing will happen to them,’’ she said.
Her ministry is working with a group of NGOs to review a draft law, first written in 1996, that defines violence against women as domestic violence and trafficking, as well as rape, she said.
“The government is very concerned with the increasing number and also the increasing severity of these crimes,’’ she said. “Today alone, we have heard of two very severe cases of rape and trafficking.’’
The ages of the victims, she said, “keeps getting younger.’’ She said it is also likely that the report substantially underestimates the problem, as Cambodian women are as reluctant to report rapes as women in other countries.
Lim Mony, who heads Adhoc’s women’s section, said that younger girls are being attacked in part because of widespread publicity about the rapid increase in AIDS cases.
Health workers estimate as many as 200,000 Cambodians, many of them sex workers, are infected with HIV. Men afraid of contracting AIDS from prostitutes are attacking young girls in the hopes that they aren’t infected, she said.
In 1998, nine girls younger than 13 years old were attacked; in 1999, that number had grown to 26, one of whom was killed in the assault, according to the Adhoc study. Among those aged 14 to 17, six were attacked in 1998; that number increased to 24 in 1999.
Lim Mony said a number of other factors are behind the sharp increase in reported rapes, including an influx of pornography and drugs and economic stresses on Cambodian families.
“Parents aren’t educating their own children,’’ she said, while poor families allow their children “to work far away from their own families,’’ leaving them more vulnerable to predators.
The biggest increase came in the number of attacks on women over 18. Only one such rape was reported in 1998; in 1999, that figure grew to 16.