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Domestic violence ‘tolerated’: survey

MORE than half of Cambodian men and women believe a husband would be justified in shooting, stabbing or throwing acid at his wife if she were disrespectful or argumentative, according to a survey released Tuesday by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

The Violence Against Women: 2009 Follow-up Survey was conducted to assess how the level of awareness of domestic violence issues has changed since a baseline survey was conducted in 2005. The new survey draws from interviews with 3,040 “members of the general public” – a population selected to be nationally representative – as well as 311 police officers and local officials.

Samantha Ferrell, young professional for the promotion of women’s rights at the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), a German-funded aid group that contributed to the survey, said the results pointed to some improvements, but that domestic violence “is still widely accepted, justified and tolerated”.

One particularly encouraging finding, she said, was that “almost all” respondents were aware of the Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and the Protection of Victims. “This is a very big success,” she said.

But there was some discrepancy between what respondents understood to be illegal and what they considered “acceptable”. For instance, only 1 percent of male respondents said it was legal for a man to shoot, stab or throw acid at his wife, but 11 percent said it was sometimes acceptable to do so. When asked more specific questions – in particular if the wife in question “argues with [her husband], does not obey or shows respect” – 51 percent of all respondents said those same attacks would be warranted.

Ferrell said one of the most concerning findings of the survey was that police and local authorities displayed a low level of understanding of the domestic violence law.

“Just over 50 percent of local authorities seemed to be aware that physical violence is illegal,” she said. “This is somewhat of a concerning finding because the assumption would generally be that the local authorities and police would be more knowledgeable and more aware that violence is against the law.”

About 45 percent of police and authorities surveyed said it would be “justifiable” for a husband to shoot, stab or throw acid at a disrespectful or argumentative wife. Franziska Bohm, team leader for GTZ’s Promotion of Women’s Rights Programme, noted, however, that the sample of police and officials was too small to be considered nationally representative.

Another troubling finding, Ferrell said, was that female respondents this time around indicated they would be more likely to suffer in silence if abused by their spouses. “In 2005, 52 percent of women said that if they are abused by a spouse they will keep quiet and do nothing, and this has gone up to 81 percent of women responding this way in 2009,” she said.

Speaking at a launch event Tuesday, Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi noted that the number of respondents who said they knew a man who was physically abusive towards his wife had fallen from 64 percent in 2005 to 53 percent in 2009. “I cannot say this is a success, but it is a significant achievement,” she said.

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