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Rape on the rise in Cambodia: Amnesty

Victims of rape suffer from stigma while perpetrators are rarely, if ever, held accountable.

Meas Veasna. (Joel Elliott/GlobalPost)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – For Meas Veasna, as with many survivors of sexual violence, rape brought only the beginning of the horror.

Veasna, a 20-year-old married mother of two, was allegedly raped by a monk in her home province of Prey Veng in June 2009. Her life since that time has fallen apart; because of the stigma Cambodian culture attaches to being raped, her husband’s family will not allow her to see him or her children. She has been forced to move to Phnom Penh on her own to find work. Meanwhile, the monk remains free, never having been tried in court because he refuses to appear.

All across Cambodia, this sort of impunity enables rapists and victimizes women over and over, according to a recent report from Amnesty International that found that incidents of sexual violence — especially the rape of children — have increased in recent years. Police documented 468 cases of rape, attempted rape and sexual harassment between November 2008 and November 2009, a 24-percent increase over the previous year, Amnesty reported. The portion of rapes reported to human rights organization ADHOC that involved children jumped from 67 percent in 2008 to 78 percent in 2009, and many more rapes go unreported, according to Amnesty.

ADHOC, the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, is an NGO that lobbies for better policies for providing health and education services, improving labor and food condition, reducing poverty and preventing land-grabbing.

The incident involving Veasna occurred a few weeks after she had given birth to her second child and went to Wat Kaley pagoda for a ritual involving holy water. While she was there, a monk allegedly drugged and raped her, fleeing only when Veasna’s husband came to her rescue.

Police took her statement, but since then nothing has happened, Veasna said in an interview last week. She wants justice, but is beginning to despair, as the monk refuses to appear in court and investigations have ground to a halt. Amnesty’s report suggests that a guilty verdict might vindicate Veasna and allow her to return to her family, but she has her doubts.

“I want the police to arrest him, but I think it’s useless for me to continue with the case; every time I go to the police, they question me, but then there is just silence,” Veasna said. “I think my husband cannot take me back, because in his eyes I am dirty.”

Her husband continues to be supportive, exerting what little pressure he can to urge police to investigate and the courts to act.