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Exposing domestic violence

TWO years ago, when Minh Sarom began organising talks on domestic violence in her native Tek Phos district, in Kampong Chhnang province, she found recruiting women easy. The men, however, proved reluctant, particularly those who stood to benefit the most from the sessions.

“Sometimes it is difficult, because perpetrators join for the first conversation, but it touches their hearts so much that they don’t come to the next meeting because they are afraid or embarrassed,” said Minh Sarom, a district office manager for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

Srun Rachana, community capacity enhancement coordinator for the UN Development Programme’s Access to Justice Project, which has funded talks in Kampong Chhnang and in four other provinces, said this is a common problem.

“Normally, domestic violence is caused by men, and they are afraid to join the meetings because they will get many complaints from other people,” he said, adding that women who attend the meetings often make excuses for their husbands – saying they are too busy farming or, in some cases, drinking.

Minh Sarom is one of dozens of people who have been trained by the Access to Justice Project in the past two years to work as facilitators in an effort to overcome this barrier.

On Tuesday, organisers and government officials marked the end of the facilitators’ training, and presented the results of a survey intended to measure the programme’s effectiveness thus far.

Overall, there were several indications of progress in the 89 participating villages. Sixty percent of survey respondents had attended at least one of the discussions, and reported incidents of domestic violence were down 27 percent compared to when the programme started.

However, other findings were troubling. Drunkenness remained the most commonly cited cause of domestic violence in the villages, and only 33 percent of respondents recognised sexual violence as a form of domestic violence.

Minh Sareth, a facilitator from Kampong Speu province’s Baset district, said the link between drinking and domestic violence had been borne out by cases in which she had intervened.

She described one that she moderated last year:

“The husband would drink very long with his friends, so his wife went to get him. When she saw her husband drinking with his friends, she scolded him in front of them. This made the husband angry with her, and he started to beat her and pull her hair. His friends tried to stop him and he stopped, but when he got home he continued to beat her.”

Noum Sam Am, a facilitator from Sen Monorom town in Mondulkiri province, said he had recently moderated a case in which a husband beat his wife to punish her for gambling.

“She was obsessed with gambling.... When I asked the husband, he said his wife did not cook for him and so he beat her,” Noum Sam Am said.

“I called the village chief to talk with the husband and explain to him not to beat his wife, and we informed him that if he continues to beat his wife he will be punished by law.”

Arezo Malakooti, a legal expert from the Access to Justice Project, said that, on the whole, the programme had succeeded in one of its aims: encouraging local authorities to aid in combating domestic violence.

“Local authorities – the elders and other traditional authorities in the villages – their understanding had also changed, which is positive because often if women are going to report something ... [they] will go to the traditional authorities first,” Malakooti said.

She said action on the part of officials was essential to ensuring that laws against domestic violence are enforced.

“In the majority of cases, the perpetrators are not punished,” she said, “so a culture of impunity is created where people feel like they can continue to behave in this way.”

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