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Youth Sexuality and Valentine’s Day 'Fear-Mongering' in Cambodia

in CAMBODIA, 15/02/2014

Rape and sexual violence are very real problems in Cambodia. Not only have there been various (mostly NGO-based) studies related to these issues, but I know from my own longitudinal academic research on sex and intimacy in Cambodia that these are very real issues of concern there. A new study based on the sexual intentions of young people on Valentine’s Day, fails to do this however. It is, instead, creating intensified fear and moral panic around youth sexuality, which will only lead to more negative consequences—not less.

The study, titled, Love and Sexual Relationships: A Longitudinal Study of the Experiences and Plans Of Wealthier Young People Regarding The Upcoming Valentine’s Day In Phnom Penh, 2009-2014 (A Quantitative Study) was privately funded and conducted by independent public health researcher and newspaper columnist, Tong Soprach, MPH.

I admire Soprach’s energy and enthusiasm for conducting much needed research around sex and sexuality in Cambodia, and fully support and encourage the capacity building of local research and researchers. Soprach has been a friend and colleague since I began my own research there a decade ago, and still is. However, despite being graciously thanked in the acknowledgements and cited in the text of the final report, I struggle to support research that is ethically, methodologically and analytically dubious. Thus, in the name of creating healthy and open debate with a colleague and friend, I will outline some of the issues I have with the study here.    

Soprach consulted both myself and a few other academics and professionals prior to conducting the research. The problem, however, is that much of the advice was disregarded, and the study was designed, peer interviewers were trained, the survey was conducted, the data (from 715 particpants) was analyzed, and the report was published online (without any peer-review)—in less than 30 days, from start to finish. Feeling under pressure to conduct a 5-year follow-up to his original Valentine’s study on this same topic in 2009, he ignored concerns over ethical issues, methodological issues, survey design issues, risks related to rushing the study, and risks around how the study may be used to create further panic and fear around young people and sex. And it appears as though that is exactly what it’s doing.

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