Police arrested a suspected serial rapist in Battambang province on Wednesday for a litany of alleged offenses against minors that came to light after a teenage victim told police she had been repeatedly assaulted by the man.
Dek Chea, a 60-year-old farmer, was arrested at the house he shares with his wife and three children in Bavel district’s Khnach Romeas commune after a boy witnessed his 16-year-old sister being raped last month, said commune police chief Tom Socheat.
“An 8-year-old boy, the brother of the victim, saw it, and then he told his aunt about it,” Mr. Socheat said, adding that the girl’s aunt informed commune police about the assault on Wednesday morning.
During questioning, the victim said she had been raped by Mr. Chea many times.
“She said he would cover her mouth and strangle her,” Mr. Socheat said.
After the first victim came forward, Mr. Socheat said, the families of three other girls between the ages of 11 and 15 filed complaints against the elderly farmer.
“The victims would go to watch TV at his house and he would rape them…in the forest near his house,” the police chief said, adding that the suspect had used bribery and threats to keep the girls quiet.
“He told them, ‘I will give you this money, and if you tell your parents, I will kill you.’”
Mr. Socheat said that after Mr. Chea’s arrest, commune officials admitted they had heard rumors about the abuse as early as November and urged residents to report the incidents to police.
“Villagers heard about it, but they didn’t report it,” he said. “They investigated by themselves.”
Finding no “signs or hints” of abuse, the villagers decided they had been ill-informed, he added.
On Kvai, chief of the provincial police’s serious crimes bureau, said the suspect defended himself under questioning at the provincial police headquarters on Thursday by claiming that the young girls had willingly had sex with him.
“He told police that he didn’t rape them. He called them to sleep with him and then he paid them,” he said, adding that the victims were also questioned by provincial police on Thursday.
Mr. Kvai said the girls told police that the abuse had been going on for years, and had occurred at the suspect’s house, in a nearby cemetery, and the surrounding forest.
“They were repeatedly raped,” he said. “The 16- and 14-year-old girls were first raped when they were 11 and 13 years old. It has been happening since 2013,” he said. “The 11- and 12-year-old’s cases occurred in 2015 and 2016.”
The Child Protection Unit (CPU), a wing of the Cambodian Children’s Fund, is investigating the case, said James McCabe, the unit’s director of operations.
“It appears likely that further victims will be identified,” he said, adding that the CPU was not aware of any previous convictions against Mr. Chea.
(Additional reporting by Taylor O’Connell)