Women’s Fears Continue After Phnom Penh Gang Rapes

She said she fought with her attacker at first but gave up after receiving vicious punches and kicks to the face. He then raped her, she said, and was soon followed by five of his friends who were lined up holding condoms, ready to take their turn.

Throughout her ordeal on Friday night, the 25-year-old said she was told that she would be killed and dumped in a nearby pond once the men were finished with her body.

Standing near her friend in the dark empty lot in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district late that night was a 21-year-old, who said she tried to cry out for someone to help. Soon after, however, she said she too was grabbed by one of the men and raped.

That man was followed by another, she said, who was only interrupted when police arrived at the scene and shot four times in the air—sending the pack of men running in all directions as they struggled to pull their trousers up.

“I have good luck. If the policemen did not come, the men would have continued raping me and then killed me,” she said yesterday, as she recalled the incident to a reporter in the tiny rented Sen Sok apartment she and her friend have shared for the past three months.

Four days after the alleged gang rapes occurred, police said yesterday they had only arrested two suspects.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court, however, yesterday released one of the suspects without charge, after it was found that he had been wrongly identified, said Heang Sopheak, the court’s deputy prosecutor.

Mr Sopheak added that the second suspect, 24-year-old Suon Chanthon, was charged yesterday with rape and robbery and placed in provisional detention at Prey Sar Prison.

Sen Sok district penal police chief Yim Davuth said yesterday that police were continuing to hunt for the remaining suspects. He said police believed they could have fled Phnom Penh, as they had not returned to their homes since the incident on Friday night.

The two women said yesterday that they were still terrified that the men who escaped arrest would try to find them. Almost as terrifying, given that their lack of savings has prevented them from even being examined by a doctor, was their belief that they would lose their jobs because of the incident.

They said were told by their female manager on Saturday that they would be suspended from their jobs as cleaners and hostesses at the Heng-Heng Sambath restaurant in Sen Sok, because the restaurant did not want to be involved with a possible court case.

“I work during the daytime as a cleaner and during the night as a hostess, earning a salary of $40 a month as a cleaner and $50 as a hostess. But now the manager has suspended my job,” the 21-year-old said.

After being contacted yesterday, however, the owner of the restaurant, who declined to be named, said that he would call his manager and tell her to get in contact with the two women.

“I will call my manager to call them back to work,” he said, adding that the two women would be welcomed back after they had fully recovered from the incident.

Kirth Chantharith, spokesman for the National Police commissariat, said yesterday that police were concerned about a rise in reported rape cases this year.

“Between January and August in 2010, there have been 188 rape cases recorded,” he said, adding that 154 cases had been recorded during the same period in 2009.

While he said he was not aware of how police had handled Friday’s incident, Mr Chantharith said police had been trained to offer support to victims, specifically to help them receive a medical examination and protect them from further violence.

The alleged gang rapes have horrified rights activists, who say that the culture surrounding rape needs to change immediately.

SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said in an e-mail from the US yesterday that she would start investigating the events surrounding the case immediately.

“I am really, really horrified and outraged by the crime that is committed and how the society and the authorities seem to condone [the crimes] by being silent,” Ms Sochua said.

Ms Sochua also said the women should not be prevented from going back to work if they wanted to and that their employer would have no legal grounds for dismissing them.

Pung Chhiv Kek, president of rights group Licadho, said yesterday that the ingrained culture of indifference shown to rape victims was part of the Cambodian tradition of treating men as “gold” and women as “a piece of white cloth,” which was worthless if stained.

“Once raped, a Cambodian girl [is seen to] bring shame to her family. These prejudices have wide-ranging effects on the victim’s attitude, [and] on the way cases of rape are considered by public opinion, and handled by the authorities and the judicial system,” she said.

“Authorities and civil society, private companies, lawyers, journalists, doctors and NGOs should work hard to disseminate the importance of bringing perpetrators to justice, instead of accepting deals outside the court. [They should] raise awareness so that victims are not considered guilty.”

 

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