The number of reported sex-trafficking and rape cases has surged over the past two years, according to a report released Thursday by the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center.
In the first 10 months of 2003, the center recorded 220 sex trafficking cases, up 56 percent from 141 cases last year. That figure compares with 120 reported cases in 2001.
Reported rape cases jumped
22 percent to 120 cases through October, compared with 98 cases for all of 2002. In 2001, the center recorded a total of 44 reported rape cases.
“It is a serious problem,” said Nop Sarin Srei Roth, a monitoring officer for the center.
She added that the center tracked 400 cases of domestic violence in the past 10 months. Last year, it recorded 635 domestic violence cases, and in 2001, it reported 443 cases.
About one in every five cases of sex trafficking and domestic violence involved victims under the age of 18, Nop Sarin Srei Roth said.
Sex trafficking was most prevalent in business and tourist hubs, particularly in the towns and border areas, said Oung Chanthol, executive director of the center.
Many underage girls in remote areas across the country are lured to work in more populous locations, led by promises of jobs and higher salaries, Oung Chanthol said. Instead, a large number are sold into prostitution.
In some cases, girls are persuaded to marry rich men, but are then abandoned within days, said Oung Chanthol, adding that this was also a form of sex trafficking.
“It’s a cruel act by rich men on minor girls,” she said.
Blasting the country’s courts, Oung Chanthol said only 7 percent of all trafficking, rape and domestic violence cases reported through the crisis center were resolved by the courts.
She added that there was a lack of experts and resources to assist and care for rape victims, leading authorities to claim a “lack of evidence” to charge the offenders.
Menh Navy, advocacy manager for the Gender and Development Network for Cambodia, also blamed a “culture of impunity” that allows most offenders to avoid arrest.
Menh Navy added that the court system favors the rich, while the poor are unable to find justice because they cannot afford to bribe authorities.
“Nothing can be resolved when the government continues to enforce impunity,” she said.
Oung Chanthol said the rise in complaints over sex trafficking, domestic violence and rape is largely due to greater public knowledge about the problem. As a consequence, she said, more victims are speaking out.
“In the past, people felt scared to complain but recently, people are brave to bring the cases to court or seek help through NGOs,” she said.
Domestic violence, however, still remains taboo. Though it occurs at all levels of society, she said, wives of the rich and powerful are reluctant to file complaints because they feel the need to uphold their families’ honor.
Oung Chanthol urged the government to quickly adopt a law on domestic violence and to enforce heavy penalties that would deter violations against women and children.