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For Many Sexual Assault Victims, Justice Is Elusive

Screenshot of the cover of a report by Cambodia's human rights organization, Licadho, on rape victims, released on Monday, November 30, 2015.

The US-based World Justice Project ranks Cambodia 99th out of 102 countries for its rule of law.

For many Cambodian victims of sexual assault, justice can be hard to find. Not only can it be difficult culturally to report rape and other crimes, but police and the courts are not necessarily well trained to deal with sensitive crimes. Add to that judicial corruption, and you have a system that is not serving victims well, rights advocates say.

Chan Sinet, who now works at an NGO in Phnom Penh, says she was raped by the head of an orphanage when she was 16. She complained and was summoned to court to discuss the crime, and questioned by police. But the way it was done was incredibly stressful, she said.

The questioning was unprofessional and disregarded her as a victim, making her afraid to give details about the abuse, she said. “[Police] asked me whether I was truly raped or had just made up the story,” Chan Sinet told VOA Khmer. “I cried immediately.”

Chan Sinet said she felt confusion and stress throughout her case, which seemed “intentionally” prolonged. “It was not once, but it was many times that I was asked to write a report, and I felt so pressured, and I also felt that they did not try to help me. It was like they took the case for granted.”

The perpetrator never went to trial. “He is still running the organization, and the organization has not been closed,” Chan Sinet said. .

Her story is not uncommon. In a survey by the rights group Licadho of 762 rape allegations from 2012 to 2014, about a third of reported rape cases didn’t go to trial, and about half of them ended with the perpetrator paying compensation to the victim or her family to avoid prosecution. By Cambodian law, rape is a penal crime that cannot be settled by compensation outside the court.

Cambodia’s judiciary is notoriously unjust. The US-based World Justice Project ranks Cambodia 99th out of 102 countries for its rule of law.

A corrupt judicial system creates a barrier to justice for victims of rape, Licadho said. “It implies that rape is not a criminal matter and that it is not serious enough to be dealt with by the courts,” the report of the survey, released in November, says.

Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin declined to comment on the specifics of the report, but he said he doubted Licadho’s methodology.

“Regarding the actions taken by the courts, it’s hard to make a comment, because it’s based on judges’ decisions, case-by-case, under the law,” he said. He acknowledged that limited capabilities of law enforcement can hamper a case.

Nap Somaly, the head of Licadho’s office for women’s rights, who oversaw the recent survey and report, said the group is working with public officials to better monitor the judiciary and push for justice for victims.

“Some cases proceed smoothly, with help from our lawyers provided specifically to represent the victims,” she said. “But in some cases, with high-profile or wealthy culprits, the prosecution proceeds with irregularly slow movement.”

Victims like Chan Sinet, who says she has suffered nearly 10 years of mental scars, still hold out hope for justice. “If he is jailed, then justice has come to me, and I will be very happy,” she said. “So that I won’t have shocking fear and bad dreams at night anymore.”