SIHANOUKVILLE (Khmer Times) – This month’s early release of convicted French pedophile Philipe Broaly – despite ongoing court appeals – is an insult to victims and a huge step backwards for child protection in Cambodia, multiple NGOs have warned.
Some organizations have gone further, officially calling on French authorities to investigate the case against Mr. Broaly, who has returned to his home country.
“We are frustrated and concerned about his release from prison,” Maggie Eno of the coastal children’s charity M’lop Tapang told Khmer Times.
“Our main concern is always the impact that this has on victims and families, as well as other children,” said Ms. Eno, who added that there was huge disappointment in Sihanoukville surrounding the lack of justice in this particular case Mr. Broaly, a former judge, had enjoyed a prestigious legal career in France before coming to Cambodia to run Enfants du Cambodge, a child welfare NGO, where he was able to abuse children over the course of at least five years.
He established Ecole Francaise de Sihanoukville, a widely supported school recognized by the French Embassy. Working with children, he easily gained access to, and the trust of, victims and families.
Confusion Over Release
Other NGOs have described their confusion in recent weeks as to why the convicted sex offender was allowed to walk free while court appeals had been filed against what they described as a weak sentence by the provincial court.
“[His release] was ordered by the Sihanoukville court while he was still awaiting appeal,” said Ms. Eno, adding to speculation in the coastal expatriate community that the wealthy Frenchman had engineered his own freedom.
In a recent joint statement, 17 child protection NGOs described their frustration around Mr. Broaly’s lenient sentence and early release from prison.
The child abuser ended up serving only eight months of a 14 month sentence for sexually abusing four boys. He was also fined $5,500.
Mr. Broaly, 50, was originally arrested by police in October last year, following a tip-off from a former teacher at his NGO.
The wealthy retiree from Lyon, France, was eventually convicted in May this year of four separate cases of serious and sustained sexual abuse against young boys over a five-year period.
Following his conviction, he was only required to spend several weeks in prison before his release.
Calls for French Investigation
An alliance of child-protection NGOs said the handling of the case as an embarrassing and unacceptable debacle for Cambodia.
“There has been no justice for the victims here,” said Samleang Seila, executive director of Action Pour Les Enfants. “The victims and families remain fearful of Broaly’s return.”
Angered by Mr. Broaly’s swift escape back to his homeland, Mr. Seila has called upon French police to take up the case against him.
“We call for immediate action by the French authorities to reinvestigate the case and seek justice for our children,” he said in a joint statement with M’lop Tapang.
Mr. Broaly’s lenient sentence and early release has come as less of a surprise to those who monitored the case from its start. Since his arrest in October, the former French judge has been accused of seeking to use his wealth and influence to secure his freedom.
Earlier this month, within days of his release from prison, Khmer Times published findings that revealed the convicted sex offender had attempted to bribe parties involved in his prosecution, including the families of victims.
Pou Sovonn, the father of two of the victims, told Khmer Times that Mr. Broaly’s affiliates tried to offer him $50 to drop the charges.
The victim’s family also alleged that a man who appeared to be a soldier had approached the family asking them to sign a document agreeing to drop the charges. When they refused, the man threatened that he would do “something bad” to the family.
Such accusations of attempted bribery and intimidation could have been vital in securing a new investigation into Mr. Broaly, but his early release and hasty escape to France makes justice for his victims increasingly unlikely.
The crimes committed by Mr. Broaly in Sihanoukville are far from unique, though the majority of pedophiles who molest boys there are Cambodian, child protection workers say.
Research conducted last year found that 38 percent of boys living or working on the streets and beaches of Sihanoukville reported that they had been sexually abused, said Alastair Hilton, technical advisor to non-profit First Step. The research also found that the boys were four times more likely to have suicidal thoughts than boys who had not been molested.
The extent of sexual violence against boys and men globally is also far higher than public perceptions, he said, citing research that found that one in three victims of sexual violence are male.
Despite this ratio only about 1 percent of resources available to support victims of sexual violence globally are channelled to men and boys, Mr. Hilton said.
NGOs working on sexual violence in developing countries work almost exclusively with female victims, Mr. Hilton said, pointing to research that found that only 3 percent of 4,076 such NGOs surveyed even mention sexual violence against men and boys. (Additional Reporting by Vincent MacIsaac.)