At the beginning of this week we temporarily said goodbye to the staff at APLE for a two week transcription period away.
We decided to go to a quiet and calm island, Koh Rong Samloem, to transcribe. Phnom Penh has been very crowded and noisy which has affected our sleep. The environment here is not too bad!
The transcription process has been surprisingly valuable to us; it included a lot of information that got lost during the interviews. Due to a great amount of new information and some difficulties hearing, we were not able to apprehend all details at the time of the interviews.
A story from the interviews that touched us this week:
Next week we will continue to write and transcribe!
During week 3, we had the opportunity to interview two more respondents at APLE. We experienced some difficulties in terms of language barriers, yet, we received valuable information about APLE’s work! We also finished writing the compulsory parts of the thesis, as the deadline was closing in.
This week, we were invited by APLE to join a Supreme Court Trial.
Their case included a 39 year old British offender, previously convicted with “indecent assault” (e.g. sexual touching) of a 13 year old Cambodian girl (his sister in law’s daughter). He had spent 2 out of 2,5 years in prison and appealed his conviction with the wish to be freed of the allegations and return to teaching in Cambodia.
Unfortunately, the victim and her mother was not present as they decided to terminate their participation in the case. Therefore, we were only able to really understand the offender’s perspective.
The process of the trial differed a lot from the Swedish legal process that we know and, in contrast to Sweden, all offenders can appeal to The Supreme Court (the highest level of court) in Cambodia. The Supreme Court does not only handle specific praxis or evidence cases. There were 5 judges, one court clerk, one prosecutor, one child/victim lawyer, and one or several defence lawyers. There was about 15 people on trial, over only 4 hours, that were standing outside, in the doorways or sitting amongst the visitors. There were guards multiple seats behind the offenders, of which some were sleeping. Some offenders/people were on trial, or appealed their convictions, for murder and sex crimes. The hearings were short and we discussed the legal security/certainty (rättssäkerhet) of the proceedings.
We are by no means making any assumptions about the guilt or innocence of the British offender. However, we were quite surprised by the lack of legal security/certainty, e.g. in terms of the translator’s translation of the judges’ and prosecutors’ questions. The english was at times hard to understand and the offender claimed that previous translators had been even worse, at times even drunk. We were lucky to have APLE staff translating the parts in Khmer and the parts in english that we could not understand. The offender also claimed that a 6h trial in The First Instance Court only generated a 2 page court report and that the written report from the initial police interrogation was not translated correctly and excluded major parts of his statement. We also noticed that neither witnesses nor charged offenders swore under oath before witnessing in front of the judges.
An interesting question was raised in regard to cultural differences. The victim was living with her sister in the house of the offender, his wife (the victims aunty) and their own children. One part of the conviction was based on the acts of kissing the child’s cheek and forehead to comfort her when she was sad. Such acts are not considered as appropriate comforting acts by fathers in Cambodia, in contrast to western countries. This observation does not exclude the allegations of sexual touching of private parts, but, solely points out differences in cultural norms.
As a defence, the wife witnessed to her husband’s benefit, by describing the girl victim as a bad daughter, involved in ‘bad’ activities, and being outdoors until midnight. This is a recurring argument that we face in our research about stigmatisation and assigning a complete and legitimate status of being a victim of sexual exploitation and abuse in Cambodia. Daughters are seen as bad or blamed for their own victimisation because they are outdoors at late hours which is far from the western values and perceptions of victimhood.
This week we finished our interview guide and consent letter. We started to spread information about our thesis and the APLE organisation on social media and will start a fundraising for the organisation over the coming days.
We interviewed 5 team leaders this week and we have 2 left for next week. It went great, they were very informative and would tell us a lot about their work and experiences! There were some heartbreaking stories and we are amazed about how positive and happy they seem to remain considering their work.
The APLE staff were very sweet to invite us to their yearly Khmer New Years celebrations and we were so happy to join! It gave us a chance to get to know the staff outside of the office and they were as warm and inviting, just like they were during the first meeting. It turned out to be a boat get-together with plenty of Cambodian food!
APLE have clear equality principles in all respects and the staff has really inspired us both. One of the employees travels a total of 4 hours every day to get to APLE’s office. There is no shortage of ambition amongst APLE’s employees!
We arrived in Phnom Penh! It is warm and people are very friendly. We stepped into our pretty decent hotel lobby where we had booked a room for one month and were instantly reminded of why we are here. The sign on the counter says “no sex trafficking”.
After battling our jetlag, we started off with some deep diving into ProQuest to gain a better understanding of Cambodia’s history and its effect on sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA). We also worked our way through prior research to discuss and identify gaps. We noticed that there were plenty of research on the phenomenon SEA along with counter actions and preventions means; yet, very little about victim stigmatisation and the absence of a complete and legitimate status of being a victim. With that, we had found our main focus area and started to put research questions into writing. We realised that both Christie’s “The ideal victim theory” and Goffman’s theory about stigmatisation were great guidelines for our research.
We consider ourselves very lucky to collaborate with the APLE organisation. They gave us a warm welcome as they invited us to a meeting at their office with the team leaders within the organisation. Five hardworking and busy professionals set off an hour of their day to introduce themselves to us and to tell us about their work and ambitions. We are inspired by their drive and commitment to put an end to SEA of children! They also seemed to be very keen to learn from us in exchange which made us feel valued and important too.
Through our own research, we have gained a deeper understanding of the country’s history and context that allows continued exploitation of children, through e.g. prostitution. The Cold War and the US peacekeeping troops, corruption, and poverty are emphasised factors. Later, tourism became a strong contributing factor along with the Internet, which has become an increasingly popular platform for SEA. As a result, the street-based vulnerability has to some extent received less attention, says APLE’s ED. During the meeting with APLE, we also learned that the family and society play a major role in victims’ rehabilitation and reintegration into society as shaming and distancing from abused children is common. Exposure to sexual crimes is “taboo” and victims are facing the risk of being rejected by their families and the society.