Just a quick note before you continue reading or allow children to read this (but who in their right mind would let a child read this??) that this post pertains to rape and the sex trade. I know it sounds heavy but I’ll do my best to keep it short and not arduous.
As you recall, I’m doing volunteer work at the Khmer Youth Association (KYA) who’s aim is to encourage youth to raise their voice, educate themselves and make a better future for Cambodia. This past week, they hosted a workshop for a couple hundred young people that are striving to make real and lasting impacts in their communities.
For me, it wasn’t very exciting because my job was to sit and take notes from what my translator, SM (more on this incredibly interesting man in another post) was telling me. The morning was pretty dull but they had one speaker who spoke English (I can’t recall her name and the itinerary is all in Khmer) and presented the results of a study undertaken by UN Women that examined the gang rape epidemic in South East Asia.
Here are some hard numbers for you:
-25% of men in the study admitted to raping a woman
-16% of men in Cambodia who admitted to rape did so before the age of 14
-more than 50% of men in Cambodia admitted to rape before the age of 20
-5% of cases were gang rape
-Cambodia was the only country in the study where gang rape was the most common type of non- partner rape
-the main reasons for rape were sexual entitlement, boredom and anger or a desire to punish a woman.
In the course of her talk and the video we watched about the same study, we learned that the main reason why so many men in Cambodia have committed gang rape is because of a disturbing male bonding practice known as “bauk”. “Bauk” is gang rape disguised as a something to strengthen the relationships between young men. They compete to see who can last longest with NO regard as to how their victim feels. Further, many men and women don’t consider it rape, especially if it’s with a sex trade worker.
What’s more disturbing is that it usually starts with sex workers (one man will convince her to come with him and many others will be waiting to participate, unknown to the sex worker) and becomes so naturalized among these men that they begin to pull the same scheme with their girlfriends and, later, any woman they see fit.
The obvious answer is to change attitudes towards women and attempt to bring gender equality to Cambodia. As with most things, this is easier said than done. There are strong social pressures for young men to participate in bauk, 87% of men and 99% of women believe that men need to be tough, one third of women believed that sometimes a woman deserves to be beaten and two thirds of women believed wives should tolerate violence to keep a family together.
The most horrible part, for me, was an interview with a 34-year-old man who was married with three daughters. He regularly lures women, sometimes schoolgirls, to go “out on the town” with him. He’ll go for meals, buy them things and take them back to a guesthouse with him where he would attempt to convince them to have sex with him. If this wasn’t gross enough, he said that, if the young women refused his advances, the only way to do it was to force them. When asked why he forced them to do something they didn’t want to do, he said that he “spent a lot of money on them. I earned it”. He earned it.
This information is incredibly disturbing. How could so many men and–if they’re under the age of 14, as a proportion were–children perpetrate such violent and demeaning acts to a fellow human, with no regard for how their victim felt? How do Cambodians, who I’ve come to know as some of the friendliest people on earth, do such awful things to each other? How could they let this happen? Then I remembered that, back in the Peg, I don’t feel safe walking downtown by myself at night. Sometimes, I don’t feel safe walking around “nice” areas at night and it reminded me that this isn’t a Cambodian problem, it’s still a world problem.
From this, I started thinking: What is the measure of a man? Why have we as a species allowed masculinity to be associated positively with violence? How can we change the definition of masculinity so rape ceases to exist?
Apologies for the heavy post. I just felt like that needed to get out there. Happy thoughts coming again soon!