Child advocacy groups say that more effort needs to be put into combating the sexual abuse of boys—a widespread problem that they say is under-addressed in Cambodia—and supporting services for male abuse victims.
Most of the focus and funding goes toward helping girls and women victims of sexual abuse, which has left a gaping hole in services and protection of boys and men.
“Here, 60 percent of our victims are boys, so the sexual exploitation of boys is really a big issue,” said Samleang Seila, Cambodia director of anti-pedophile NGO Action Pour Les Enfants.
“Despite this, the boy victims are absolutely ignored by many services. There is no priority in Cambodia to take any care of the boy victims,” he said.
According to research conducted by the Social Services of Cambodia organization, and which was published by the Hagar organization under the title “I Thought it Could Never Happen to Boys: Sexual abuse and exploitation of boys in Cambodia,” the abuse of boys in Cambodia is largely misunderstood.
Researchers interviewed 40 victims of all ages and more than 200 social workers, counselors, caretakers, NGO workers and lawyers in Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Battambang province.
The research asserts that “Predominant beliefs among many adults interviewed are that foreigners and/or gay men are primarily responsible for the abuse and that it is a relatively recent problem.”
“However, this study does not support that view, revealing that significant numbers of boys are sexually abused by Cambodian and foreign adults in a variety of settings. Boys are also abused by other children, adolescents and in some cases, women.”
As with the abuse of girls, the emotional and physical ramifications of abuse on a boy can be severe, said Alastair Hilton, who led the research and penned the report.
Moreover, re-victimization is a severe problem, said the study and NGO workers. Thirty-five percent of the male abuse victims that the APLE cares for have been repeatedly abused, Samleang Seila said.
Victims were quoted anonymously in the study. One described the abuse, and said, “It was very painful and frightening…. I was overwhelmed with confusion…. It was very painful in my heart…. I asked many questions…. Do I have bad karma? Did I do something wrong in a previous life? Why does this happen to me?”
The report indicates prevalence rates of abuse in Cambodia are difficult to determine. The World Health Organization and other international groups estimate fewer than 10 percent of victims report their experiences to authorities.
Even so, anecdotal evidence of abuse of males in Cambodia means services need to be established that cater to boys, young men and adult abuse-survivors, and existing social service providers need to be trained on how to identify and help male abuse victims, said Sue Hanna of Hagar.
Maggie Eno of the M’Lop Tapang organization agreed that male abuse victims are poorly served in Cambodia.
“It’s a massive problem here,” she said. “Not as much empathy is given to boys, especially from authorities—courts, police and a society that believes in a system where boys should have been more informed, should be able to protect themselves.”
Ellen Minotti of SSC was even more blunt.
“I don’t think there is anything in this country for boy victims.”
Bith Kimhong, director of the Interior Ministry’s Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department, said that the government is definitely doing its part to protect boys from abuse.
“We have cracked down on a lot of cases related to boy abuse,” he said. “We have already got the law and it is not only for girls,” he added.
(Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)