Courage not to turn away: tackling the problem of gang-rape in Cambodia

Is it gang rape or a rite of passage? In Cambodia, groups of men  like to have sex with one woman, and for those men who refuse to participate the peer pressure is huge. Men give many reasons, lack of money to afford a woman for sex on their own, their right, it what men do. An Al-Jazeera produced documentary uncovers the magnitude of a problem that affects the soul of this nation.

The reasons men say they rape are complex. The majority feel sexually entitled, but in Cambodia which has one of the highest rates of gang rape, anger, punishment and fun featured more prominently as reasons than in other countries. Interestingly, alcohol played less of a role than many previously thought.

Millions of dollars are spent each year trying to prevent violence against women, but few countries have managed to significantly decrease its occurrence. Governments and NGOs have been busy tackling the problem with a focus on women’s experiences as victims. Of course, the resources do need to go to victims. But it is now clear that men also need to play a role in prevention, as perpetrators and as victims themselves.

Sixty-five percent of men in Cambodia had experienced violence as children; 16 percent reported sexual abuse. This is not to say that all victims go on to be perpetrators, most of them do not, but this is a huge area of unmet needs. Of the hundreds of NGOs in Cambodia working on sexual crime, trafficking, violence and sexual abuse – only four have meaningful programmes targeting men and boys.

It sounds odd to say that the good news for Cambodia is that 52 percent of men raped for the first time when they were teenagers – more than 15 percent were under 15. Disturbing as this is, it is evidence that working with boys could make a remarkable difference.

In a country that has been shaped by years of war there is a desperate need for Christians and the Church to join hands with those who are working with boys and men. Many NGO’s work with women who are victims of sexual violence. Prayer for men and boys is needed to change the ways social relationships are expressed.

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