Women Mugged on Motorcycles Left Bruised and Fearful

Sandie Pullen had begun to fear the whooshing sound of a motorcycle pulling up fast behind her, and for good reason.

A few months earlier while she was riding on the back of a mo­tor­cycle on Monivong Boulevard in broad daylight, two young men on an expensive motorcycle had swept up from behind.

One of them grabbed her purse and held on, pulling her off the back and dragging her on the pavement—first on her back and then on her stomach—for about 10 meters. She was bloody and bruised all over.

Then, a few months later, the Australian public relations executive was riding on the back of an­other motorcycle near the riverfront, late at night. She heard the sound, turned around and saw the headlight.

“There was a split-sec­ond where I realized I was in trouble,” she said.

The next thing Pullen knew, she was standing in front of her apartment, “stunned, dazed and tearful.”

She had suffered a concussion and blacked out for a half hour. The headaches lasted a week, and the bruises still show.

Now she wears a helmet everywhere she goes. She never rides sidesaddle. And she puts her bag in her lap rather than over her shoulder. “They’re not going to care where you end up,” she says of the robbers. “All they want is the bag. You have no time to realize what is going on.”

Pullen is at least one of three expatriate women—they all know each other—pulled off motorcycles in the week leading up to the Khmer New Year. One of them, like Pullen, has been pulled off twice in the space of a few months.

Police and politicians hailed a de­crease in serious crime and in motor vehicle accidents after this Khmer New Year. But these mobile purse snatchings continue, often perpetrated by well-dressed teen-agers driving fast motorcycles.

And while statistics are hard to come by, anecdotal evidence from foreigners like Jane Martin, a public relations executive, and Pullen suggests an increase since late last year.

Like domestic violence or rape, this is a crime that almost exclusively affects women. And for every foreigner victimized, of course, there are many more Cambodians.

Chanthol Oung, executive director of the Cambodian Wo­men’s Crisis Center, which monitors violence against women, says she frequently reads of muggings where Cambodian women on motorcycles are thrown onto the ground as thieves grab their bags or jewelry. Some have suffered broken bones, and at least one has been killed in the fall. One of her own staff had her purse snatched by a motorcycle thief, though she es­caped injury.

“Authorities must suppress these crimes for the public’s safety,” Chanthol Oung said.

Most victims do not report the purse-snatchings to the police because they do not believe the authorities can help them, Chan­thol Oung said. Or they believe that the police know the thieves, and they will be forced to bargain to have their belongings re­turned, she said.

Regan Reader, a Canadian national and an intern with an international organization, did re­port her incident to the municipal police.

“I was assured that [the culprits] would be beaten soundly if they were caught,” she said.

That the police would respond brutally, and unlawfully, to her com­plaint was of little consolation to Reader, who, in any case, nev­er heard from the police again.

She had been dragged off the back of a motorcycle in broad daylight in the middle of the afternoon on the Wat Phnom traffic circle, on the last day of 2001.

She had just returned from the bank—she thinks she might have been followed—with several hundred dollars and her passport, which were all stolen by two young men on a “flashy black bike.”

“I was riding on the back of a moto. Next thing I know I’m on my face, getting dragged along the pavement.”

She suffered cuts and bruises on her chest, stomach and knees.

One municipal police official with the city’s minor-crime unit disagreed that the crimes were on the upswing.

He estimated that the robberies have de­creased 10 percent to 20 percent since 2001 thanks to police ef­forts, though he did not have specific statistics to back up the claim. He said his department hears of the purse-snatchings  about once a week.

The most dangerous areas are along the riverfront, near the Min­­istry of Defense on Pochen­tong Road, along Sihanouk Bou­levard and along Monivong Bou­levard from the former Chi­nese hospital to the Kbal Thnal traffic circle, the official said.

Foreigners report frequent muggings on Street 178 and Street 184.

Most of the perpetrators are teen-agers, about two-thirds of whom have dropped out of school, said the official, who re­fused to give his name.

The official suggested that women carry their purses on the front, not on the side. Chanthol Oung said she carries her purse on the front, and in her hands, so thieves are not tempted to grab it from her shoulder and pull her to the ground.

But the thieves are not easily discouraged. Reader’s bag was slung over her head, hanging on one shoulder and resting on the opposite hip, on the theory that it would discourage a snatch-and-grab. It made little difference to the thieves.

Martin has been pulled off twice. She said her small shoulder bag was half-concealed when she was yanked off a motorcycle and straight into oncoming traffic along Monivong Boulevard be­fore Khmer New Year.

Now Martin goes out less often at night, rarely wears a bag, and keeps her keys around her wrist—so she’ll still be able to get home if her bag is stolen.

“I’m still kind of shaken up by it,” she said. “If a moto comes up quickly at me from behind, I jump.”

(Additional reporting by Nhem Chea Bunly)


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