Unrecorded Rapes Prevent ‘Access to Justice’

A 14-year-old girl from Svay Rieng province was reportedly beaten, raped and left unconscious in a pond on Tuesday night.

Hours earlier, in nearby Prey Veng province, a 28-year-old man lured a 5-year-old girl with 1,500 riel, or about $0.38, led her a short distance from their neighboring homes and raped her in the bushes, police officials said.

Reports of rape and sexual assault in Cambodia are relentless and seemingly constant. Surveys have portrayed the pervasiveness of gender-based violence as alarmingly vast. But just how deep the problem goes—and how effective responses have been—is concealed behind the government’s failure to systematically document rape cases and their final outcomes, experts say.

“In terms of consequences, failure to collect data means that the extent of the problem remains largely hidden,” said Naly Pilorge, Lica­dho’s deputy director of advocacy, in an email on Tuesday.

“As long as this remains the case, we’re unlikely to see any improvement in either the provision of services for victims or their access to justice.”

Some studies have painted a shocking picture of rape as a commonplace occurrence in the country. According to a 2013 U.N. survey, more than 1 in 5 men aged 18 to 49 admitted to having raped a woman.

Attempts to coordinate authorities in tracking and responding to rape, however, have been stuttering, and there remains no centralized database documenting reported cases and their outcomes.
In 2012, the government established a working group for gender-based violence, and ministries represented on the committee were required to collect and share information on the prevalence and responses to violence.

Some have failed to comply—including, notably, the Justice Ministry, said Rodrigo Montero, gender adviser of the German development agency GIZ, which co-facilitates the committee with U.N. Women.

“There is no data available on violence against women from a number of key institutions, like the Ministry of Justice,” he said in an email.

Commune and village chiefs are required to document cases with the Ministry of Planning, but their data is tainted by misunderstandings of the indicators of violence and with falsified reports that try to give the impression of decreasing violence, Mr. Montero said.

Even for ministries that compile reports, in some cases their data collection amounts to merely documenting news reports.

Sam Sophorn, deputy director of the Women’s Affairs Ministry’s legal protection department, said the ministry’s information department collects information from newspapers.

Seng Lot, a spokesman for the Ministry of Planning, declined to comment. Neither National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith nor Interior Ministry secretary of state Sak Setha could be reached.

Successful reporting goes beyond measuring frequency. It would show failures by authorities to respond to problems and help organizations assess how effective their initiatives are, said Danielle Tyson, a senior lecturer in criminology at Melbourne’s Deak­in University.

In August, the U.N. Population Fund and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade started a program that aims to help Southeast Asian governments collect more accurate and reliable data.

As part of the initiative, Cambodian researchers from the National Institute of Statistics will be given training over the next three years.

Whether better-trained statisticians can lift the veils on the pervasiveness of rape in Cambodia remains to be seen, however. Mr. Montero of GIZ offered a remind­er that attaining a clearer picture of rape would only be a start.

“Data collection is critical,” he said, “but does not solve the problem itself.”

(Additional reporting by Phan Soumy)

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