More than 1 in 5 Cambodian men aged between 18 and 49 admit to having raped a woman, and more than half committed their first rape before the age of 20, according to a U.N. report released Tuesday that reveals a culture of violence against women across the Asia-Pacific region.
In the first study of its kind, male interviewers surveyed more than 10,000 men and a smaller number of women in Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea to determine the prevalence of physical and sexual violence against women and the reasons behind it.
In Cambodia, which was the only country in the region besides Sri Lanka where the statistics show a national average, 20.8 percent of 1,863 men interviewed admitted to having raped a woman, while 15.8 percent of those who admitted to having committed rape did so under the age of 15.
“The young age of first perpetration highlights that working with young boys in rape prevention is imperative,” the report says.
“Research suggests that the key factors associated with the perpetration of intimate partner violence include poverty, a low level of education, witnessing abuse at home, exposure to childhood trauma, alcohol abuse, anti-social personality disorder, attitudes that are accepting of violence, relationship discord and having multiple partners,” it states.
Results for each country varied considerably across the region, from 9.5 percent of men in urban Bangladesh admitting to having committed rape, to 62 percent on Papua New Guinea’s Bougainville Island, while prevalence of different types of rape and violence, from partner-rape to non-partner rape and gang rape, also differed depending on the country.
Significantly, Cambodia was also unusual in the region for men reporting more sexual violence against an intimate partner than physical violence, while gang rape—known as “bauk” in Khmer—was shown to be a particular problem in Cambodia.
According to the report, Cambodia is the only country where rape by multiple perpetrators was the most common form of non-partner rape.
“Gang rape was the least common form of rape except in Cambodia, where it was more common than non-partner rape by a perpetrator acting alone,” the report says. It adds that 49 percent of all men interviewed in Cambodia have had sex with a sex worker or paid for sex.
Rape is covered by Cambodia’s Penal Code and legislation on domestic violence was passed in 2005 with the Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and the Protection of Victims. However, marital rape is not specifically illegal under any law, which may reflect wider cultural perceptions about what is permissible within the bounds of marriage, the report says.
Although Cambodia’s attempts to punish offenders compares favorably to other countries—almost 50 percent of those admitting to rape were arrested, and 28.3 percent faced some jail time—44 percent still faced no legal consequences.
Importantly, jail sentences do not seem to affect the prevalence of sexual or physical violence against women in the countries where it is most endemic—Papua New Guinea, for example, has the highest rate of custodial sentencing, yet is the country overwhelmingly most rife with rape.
Therefore, the authors of the report, which took four years to draft, decided to try and understand men’s motivations and attitudes toward violence against women, their personal and cultural prejudices—and to a lesser extent females’ own attitudes to gender—in order to get to the underlying causes of sexual violence against women.
“[M]en reported that they raped because they wanted to and felt entitled to, felt it was entertaining or saw it as deserved punishment for women,” the report said.
The most common motivation men cite for rape is the belief that they have a right to sex with women regardless of consent, with 45 percent of Cambodian men believing they were entitled to sex irrespective of it being a partner or non-partner.
The survey also came up with other surprising results.
Alcohol, which is often presumed to be a factor in causing men who otherwise would not act violently to rape, was actually the least common reason given by men for committing rape.
In Cambodia, only 14 percent of men gave this as a reason, compared to 42 percent citing anger or punishment and 27 percent saying either fun or boredom was the motivation.
The report also claims to reflect social patterns of gender inequality and attitudes by both sexes toward gender that promotes a culture of male dominance over women. In Cambodia in particular, both men and women gave opinions that reinforced gender roles, according to the report.
Though about 95 percent of Cambodian males and females responded that men and women should be treated equally, female respondents overwhelmingly said that they felt in some way responsible for or should tolerate the acts of violence against them.
Asked whether there are times when a woman deserves to be beaten, 32.8 percent of 620 Cambodian women interviewed believed there was, compared with 27.8 percent of men; 67 percent of women—the highest of any country surveyed—believed a woman should tolerate violence to keep a family together, compared to 59.8 percent of men.
What’s more, female attitudes to the act of rape itself reveal a worrying ignorance of the principle of consent—81.7 percent of Cambodian women answered that if a woman does not physically fight back it is not rape, compared with 65.1 percent of men who think the same.
The report also details other, non-physical forms of intimidation and emotional abuse against women including insults, humiliation, aggression, threats of violence and economic abuse such as withholding a woman’s pay.
“Overall, 87 percent of men interviewed believe that to be man you need to be tough. Connected to this, we found that men who used violence against an intimate partner were more likely to be controlling over their partners, have multiple sexual partners, have transactional sex and be involved in gangs and fights with weapons,” said Emma Fulu, one of the report’s authors.
Chuon Chamrong, head of the women and children rights program at Adhoc, said part of the reason rape was so high was a lack of law enforcement and high levels of impunity.
“We are dealing with many issues here in Cambodia as to why these things happen. One point is law enforcement, which is limited in Cambodia, creating a culture of impunity that makes it okay for people to commit these crimes. Another is about a lack of education and moral instruction regarding sexuality. And obviously poverty, which leads people to leave their families and homes to places where they are not familiar,” she said.
“And then we must question the culture of pornography especially in rural areas, where uneducated young people have access to these videos that creates the impression that this is permissible.”
Lieutenant General Kirth Chantharith, spokesman for the National Police, said that he would only comment on specific cases of rape and could not speak about why there was so much rape taking place in the country.
“I can’t speak in general. I can only speak about individual cases and then we can talk about particular reasons,” he said.