A US national was in May charged with sexually abusing four underage girls in Siem Reap, raising concern among authorities and families over the safety of children from the dangers of sex tourism and paedophiles.
Siem Reap city, Siem Reap province – While cleaning her dishes at a neighbourhood water pump, Soeung Em cries as she recalls how her young daughters were reported to have been sexually abused by a US national who lured the underage girls during a visit to Pub Street.
Ms Em, 34, says that her 15-year-old daughter told her that she and her sister had gone to Pub Street and met a man from the US, who gave them and some other girls money before taking them back to his home, where he had alleged to have sexually abused them.
“One of my daughters first filed a complaint to the provincial police,” Ms Em says.
She says after her daughter filed the complaint, police found that there were four children who were sexually abused by the same US man, including her second daughter, who police helped to file another complaint.
“I request that the provincial court sentenced the suspect in accordance with the law and I demand $10,000 in compensation for each of my daughters,” Ms Em says.
She adds that an NGO has helped her daughters following the incident and relocated them to live in Phnom Penh.
Ms Em and her family lived in small rental house in Chong Kaosou village in Siem Reap city’s Slakram commune. She and her husband have four children together, including two daughters and two sons.
Ms Em says she was a scavenger while her husband was a construction worker. She explains that the US national gave her daughters some money for them to buy milk for their youngest brother. He did not do anything to them in the beginning, she adds.
“The last time he gave them money, the US man gave $30 to my 15-year-old daughter, which she gave to me, and she asked for $5 of that money to buy some food,” Ms Em says. “In the beginning, I thought he was a humanitarian, but actually, he’s a bad person because he sexually abused my daughter.”
“I request that the provincial court please sentence the American man soon,” she adds.
The provincial court charged US national Rugh James Cline on May 22 with indecent acts and placed him in pre-trial detention following his arrest on May 20, when he was brought in for questioning over accusations that he molested four underage girls.
Rath Navann, 34, is the mother of another victim. She says she and her children lived in a rental room in Tavien village in Siem Reap city’s Sala Kamroeuk commune.
Her husband works as a construction worker in another province while she works in a restaurant in the evenings. She explains that both of her daughters went to Pub Street together, however, only one fell victim to the man.
Ms Navann helped her daughter file a complaint against Mr Cline for sexual abuse.
“My 12-year-old daughter filed a complaint against the US man and I demand $10,000 of compensation from him,” she says. “I think what the American man did was very bad because he dared to commit a crime against children. I ask the provincial court to sentence him in accordance with the law.”
The two families live not far away from each other, approximately 200 metres away from one another.
Yim Srang, spokesman of Siem Reap Provincial Court, says that the court is still investigating Mr Cline’s case.
“The investigating judge is still investigating the case,” Mr Srang says.
Major General Phean Chhavan, director of Siem Reap Provincial Prison, confirms that Mr Cline is currently detained at the provincial prison pending the trial.
“He is in good health,” Maj Gen Chhavan says. “US embassy officials have visited him four to five times.”
Phoum Bunthann, Mr Cline’s lawyer, says that his client denies sexually abusing the children.
“He denies committing the crime against the children,” Mr Bunthann says, denying to comment any further so as not to disrupt the investigation process.
Brigadier General Duong Thavary, provincial deputy police chief, has previously said Mr Cline was arrested after provincial anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection officers received a complaint from mothers of two girls who were sexually abused.
Brig Gen Thavary explained that police identified a total of four abused girls related to the case, all of them under the age of 15.
She said Mr Cline molested the girls multiple times beginning in May, adding that the accused offered each girl $10 to $50 each time he molested them.
Brig Gen Thavary says that all four victims were sent to Siem Reap Provincial Social Affairs Department, which is collaborating with NGOs to keep the families safe.
“Cases of sexual abuse against children in Siem Reap province has decreased because our police officials worked hard to prevent and crack down on such cases,” Brig Gen Thavary says, noting that she did not remember the exact figures of the crime.
“Our police officials monitor and investigate any criminal cases, and if we have enough evidence, we crack down and arrest suspects because there are no exceptions for suspects who abuse children,” she adds.
Khoem Vando, a child protection specialist with NGO Action Pour Les Enfants (Aple), says the organisation has provided legal aid services to the victims as the case continues.
“After the families of the four underage girls asked for support, Aple has provided a lawyer to defend the four victims and their families,” Mr Vando says.
According to a statement released by Aple, Mr Cline’s victims were aged between 12 to 15 years.
The organisation also noted in the statement that together with its partners, it will continue to assess, monitor and provide support to the girl victims in order for them to recover from trauma and carry on with their lives in the healthiest way possible.
Mr Vando noted that cases of foreigners sexually abusing children in Cambodia continue to happen.
An Aple investigation published last year noted that foreign tourists suspected of paedophilia continue to visit the Kingdom to exploit weak law enforcement, with as many as 102 cases recorded in 2017 and 89 cases in 2018.
Lieutenant General Chiv Phally, director of Interior Ministry’s Anti-Human Trafficking Police Department, says that Cambodian police are strengthening cooperation with their overseas counterparts to crack down on child sex tourists.
“We continue to cooperate with relevant people to crack down and protect children from these criminals,” he says.