Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Traditional spiritual healers come under scrutiny

Traditional spiritual healers come under scrutiny

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The traditional healer turned rape suspect was arrested in Kampong Chhnang province on July 19. POLICE

Traditional spiritual healers come under scrutiny

A 52-year-old mother living in Kampong Chhnang province’s Teuk Phos district shows her deep regret over her decision to bring her daughter to a “spiritual healer” to get “magic water” treatment in light of the terrible consequences that resulted.

The mother told The Post that her 15-year-old daughter had been suffering from anxiety and panic attacks for two weeks when she brought her to a private clinic in their village but the doctor there couldn’t diagnose any underlying cause.

Concerned for her daughter’s wellbeing, the woman took her to get magic water treatment because she was told by neighbours that there was a well-known spiritual healer named Ty Ly who they believed could chase away any demonic spirits from her daughter.

“On July 11, I took my daughter to receive the magic water treatment, because I was told that spiritual healer Ly knew how to drive demonic spirits out of patients. I have seen him do this successfully before, so I took my daughter to his home for treatment,” she said.

The mother added that the treatment service is free of charge. Ly did not demand a fee, but an offering of a bunch of bananas, sticks of incense, a candle, a white cloth and 15,000 riel was required.

A predator strikes

“After preparing the offering, Ly told my daughter to change her clothes, asked her sit down with her legs outstretched and her palms together in front of her forehead. He slowly poured water over her head,” she explained.

“After Ly poured the ‘magic’ water, my daughter was told to get changed in another room. I was close by but did not enter as Ly forbade me. Ly followed my daughter into the room with a pair of scissors and some betel leaves. After about half an hour, my daughter returned, with Ly behind her. I had my doubts, but did not want to challenge the spiritual healer.

“I took my daughter for treatment five times, but she refused to go on the sixth time. When I asked her why, she broke down and told me that Ly had raped her twice,” she said.

“I asked her what Ly had done, and she explained that he told her to take off her clothes, and stroked her body from head to toe with the betel leaves. He raped her during the fourth and fifth treatments. She dared not cry out because he was holding a pair of sharp scissors and she feared he would stab her to death,” she added.

Justice is served

After hearing this terrible story, she took her daughter to Chieb commune police station, and the police brought the healer in for questioning. After a short interrogation, he admitted guilt and agreed to pay $3,000 in compensation. She refused his offer and he increased it to $4,000. She demanded $30,000, which he refused to pay, at which point he was arrested, she added.

Teuk Phos district deputy police chief Bou Vanny said according to the mother’s complaint, she had taken her daughter to get magic water treatment at the house of a self-proclaimed ‘spiritual healer’ Ty Ly, and the suspect had raped her daughter twice.

After receiving the complaint on the night of July 15, he immediately sent his officers to Trapeang Smach village, Chheu Khpos commune of the district. They brought the suspect back to the station, where he confessed. He was then taken into custody and legal proceedings were begun.

Experts issue warnings

Phnom Pen chief monk Khim Sorn said that belief in divination and such rituals exists in Brahmanism, but the Buddha did not allow monks to use them. Sometimes Buddhists request monks to perform such rituals.

“If a person is not a monk, it’s okay to perform magic water rituals. If the person does things that are against our social law, such as abusing children, that’s wrong. In a very moral sense, he has committed sin,” he said.

Belief in any kind of spiritual activity depends on the individual Buddhist and his or her understanding. Some fortune tellers and spiritual healers are charlatans, but some Buddhists fall for their tricks.

As a reminder, he said people should conduct research before taking their children or family members to spiritual healers for treatment. With that being said, he added, there are some healers who have achieved remarkable results.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group Licadho, said sexual abuse, especially the rape of women and children, is still a serious issue. In some cases theses crimes lead to murder.

“The victims of sexual abuse and their families have sought help from our organisation in 14 capital and provinces. The number of victims has remained fairly consistent. In 2021, Licadho received 162 cases, and in the first six months of this year, 67,” he said.

There are many underlying causes for these kinds of crimes, and for the fact that very few are prosecuted through the court system, he said.

He said there are still gaps in law enforcement, and many cases are mediated outside of court. Rape is a crime, and not a civil matter. However, many families fear for their safety, and accept compensation rather than filing a legal complaint. Others wait too long to pursue legal action, and are forced to negotiate outside of the court system. Poverty is also often a factor.

Chou Bun Eng, Ministry of Interior secretary of state and permanent vice-chair of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking (NCCT), told The Post that it seems that there are still people who believe in witches or sorcerers, and are easily fooled. They are often cheated out of their money or worse, she added.

“In relation to the spiritual healer, this kind of crime should be widely publicised, because there are too many people who believe in these fraudsters without reason. It is right that the perpetrator be punished, but it doesn’t change the fact that the victims have already had their bodies abused or lost money,” she said.

She said crimes committed by spiritual healers were generally rare, although no specific figures were available. She added that the sexual abuse of women and girls remained regrettably high, but the ministry was focussed on combating the crimes to reduce the statistics.


  • Typhoon Noru brings flash floods – 16 dead

    An official warned that that the 16th typhoon of the season, Noru, had brought heavy rains to areas the Mekong River and flooded thousands of homes in the provinces bordering Thailand. As of September 27, the death toll from the flooding had risen to 16. National Committee

  • Siem Reap drain canal now ‘mangrove’ promenade

    A more than half a kilometre long stretch of canal in Siem Reap has been covered and turned into a promenade to attract visitors, said Ly Rasmey, secretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, on September 16. The new pedestrianised

  • Angkor wildlife, aquarium park still to open October

    The Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium complex about 30km southeast of Siem Reap town with initial total investment of more than $70 million is reportedly still on track for an end-October opening. The park is located on a 100ha plot along National Road 6 in Kbon village, Khchas

  • Defence minister reaffirms Kingdom’s staunch support for One-China policy

    Minister of National Defence General Tea Banh has reaffirmed Cambodia’s unwavering support for the One-China policy. Tea Banh was speaking at the September 20 ceremonial handover of 117 vehicles and other military equipment donated by China’s defence ministry, held at Phnom Chumreay International Military Training

  • Deaths due to ‘lifestyle’ diseases rise in Kingdom

    The Ministry of Health has called on people to pay closer attention to their health to protect themselves from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) which it said have caused high rates of deaths in the country. Ministry secretary of state York Sambath made the call at a

  • Textile industry minimum wage now $200

    The official minimum wage for workers in textile-related sectors including garment, footwear, and travel goods for 2023 was pegged at $198, with Prime Minister Hun Sen stepping in to add $2 to the total, making it $200 per month. The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training made the announcement