One of Cambodia’s most prominent actresses, who most recently appeared in Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father, yesterday revealed her harrowing tale of alleged abuse at the hands of her husband.
Sveng Socheata, 38, on Saturday filed a complaint to police against Thong Sokhom, 27, her husband and a traditional healer, alleging he threatened to “behead” her and their toddler son with a meat cleaver and an axe. “He threatened to kill me . . . He intended to kill me many times,” she said yesterday, explaining she had kept quiet out of shame and to protect her privacy. “This time, I won’t shut up. I must tell the public.”
Socheata’s case is the latest in a string of high-profile domestic assaults that have shed on the pervasive nature of gender-based violence in the Kingdom.
Actress Pich Aviza ultimately withdrew a complaint in November last year against her former boyfriend, Kean Heng, a relative of timber tycoon Try Pheap, who allegedly viciously attacked her in a nightclub. In February of last year, real estate magnate Sok Bunwas handed a mere 10-month sentence for a savage, on-camera beating of TV personality Ek Socheata.
Saturday’s midday threats followed an alleged assault on April 9, when photos emerged of Socheata’s face, badly swollen and bruised. In that instance, Socheata said her husband pushed her to the floor, stepped on her face and neck with his boots and kicked her, leaving her with facial injuries and blurred vision.
After that, Socheata said, she went to Kompong Samnanh commune authorities in Takhmao seeking a compromise with her husband. He thumbprinted a document promising not to attack her again.
“It’s been three years, it’s been hundreds of times that he does this to me, but I bear it. I tried to compromise for the sake of the family,” she said.
But the renewed threats prompted the Mind Cage actress to appeal to Chraing Chamreh commune police in the capital’s Russey Keo district to take legal action against her husband, who is now on the run. “If I don’t file a complaint to police, I will be killed one day because he’s a bad-tempered husband,” she said.
Police chief Roeun Vorn confirmed his deputy had received the complaint, and it would be forwarded to the district level.
According to Ros Sopheap, the executive director of Gender and Development for Cambodia, police too often persuade women to “compromise” and continue living in dangerous homes with their abusers.
“The local authorities still have this mindset,” she said, drawing on an old Khmer proverb to illustrate her point: “Plates in a basket will rattle,” meaning conflict is “normal” between husband and wife.
More than one in five women in Cambodia have suffered physical or sexual violence by their intimate partners, and many wives believe their husbands have “a right” to beat them.
Sopheap said it was time for police to treat domestic disputes as seriously as they would a street assault, and urged the government to allocate more funds to combating domestic abuse.
She added that while Socheata’s celebrity status might afford her different treatment than poor women, her case would send a message about the prevalence of intimate partner violence.
“It shows society that when domestic violence happens . . . it is not only the poor, but the rich and elite families as well.”