It’s difficult to imagine what a child sex abuser might look like, but if you have suspicions about someone, knowing what to do when you’re in a foreign country, one that to many appears essentially lawless, can be difficult. Fortunately, Cambodia is not lawless, and there are agencies that can help anyone who has suspicions.
In 2010, a British man was arrested in Siem Reap on suspicion of sexually assaulting minors, for which he was later convicted. A shocking feature of this case was the number of comments on a public Facebook group page from former volunteers at the orphanage founded by the accused who clearly had suspicions (that page is no longer available). It is probable that some of these people certainly did report their suspicions to somebody, though not apparently to the board of governors of the organisation, which might have been a logical first step. But many may not have, perhaps because they didn’t feel that they had sufficient evidence to do so, or because they didn’t know what to do, or whom they could speak to. This case reflects a number of issues that arise in relation to what is rather innocuously (even inappropriately) called “child sex tourism”.
One is that anyone can be a child sex abuser. There is no profile, and they come from every background and every country — including Cambodia. In the case of the British man above, he was in so many respects perfectly ordinary. Educated, well presented, engaging, a great organiser, and to those that met him, he was firmly committed to the task of educating Cambodia’s children.
Which leads to the second issue. The behavioural pattern of abusers in Cambodia is changing. Children selling on streets long provided easy prey for paedophiles in Cambodia. But with increasing scrutiny, the ability to openly pursue these children has been limited. Some have altered their strategy by co-opting the parents of the child into the process of grooming him or her for sex. Outsiders, seeing a child in the company of a foreigner and a local will often assume that the child is safe.
Others, aware of the pressure to learn foreign languages in Cambodia, become teachers, giving them access and status. Others still set up orphanages in a country that has no shortage of institutions for children, many of them unnecessary.
Seila Samleang is the director of Action pour les Enfants (APLE), a local NGO dedicated to tackling child sex tourism in Cambodia. He advises anyone who might have suspicions to call their 24/7 hotline number 092 311 511, or to email them at email@example.com.
If you fear that someone is abusing children, it is extremely hard to put aside the fear of making a false accusation. After all, unless you catch someone red-handed, how is it possible to really judge what is grooming of a child for sex, or normal affection?
According to Seila, if anyone sees anything that they feel is irregular behaviour towards children or could put them at risk they “should not fear that they’ll be in trouble if they wrongfully accuse or report somebody’s behaviour. APLE agents will work out to determine what happened in a professional manner and in accordance with their code of ethics and respect for human rights”. APLE has a large team of trained investigators.
If the person you have suspicions about is working for an orphanage, shelter, school or other establishment, particularly one that puts them in contact with children, then contacting a member of the board of governors, or other responsible person, could be advisable. The tourist police in Siem Reap are helpful too, and can be contacted on (012) 402 424, (012) 969 991, or (012) 838 768.
For more information on the situation in Cambodia, the Childwise website is an excellent source of information.
Nicky Sullivan is an Irish freelance writer (and aspiring photographer). She has lived in England, Ireland, France, Spain and India, but decided that her tribe and heart are in Cambodia, where she has lived since 2007 despite repeated attempts to leave. She dreams of being as tough as Dervla Murphy, but fears there may be a long way to go. She can’t stand whisky for starters. She was a researcher, writer and coordinator for The Angkor Guidebook: Your Essential Companion to the Temples, now one of the best-selling guidebooks to the temples.
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