Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Physical, sexual abuse relegates women to a life in the shadows

Physical, sexual abuse relegates women to a life in the shadows

Physical, sexual abuse relegates women to a life in the shadows

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5-story-1.jpg

While domestic violence and rape still occur on a daily basis in

Cambodia, some women are breaking their silence to take a stand against

the years of mistreatment they've endured

TRACEY SHELTON

A billboard in Phnom Penh urges women and communities to put a stop to domestic violence.

Blood flowed heavily from 27-year-old Heng

Theary's head. She said her husband struck her with a wooden chair, a

brutal response to her question about why he never brings money home

from his work as a coconut vendor.

"My husband always beats me without any reason," she told the Post last week.

Heng Theary's story is far from extraordinary. The Ministry of Planning

estimates that 22.5 percent of women in Cambodia are victims of

domestic violence, according to a 2005 survey - the most recent

government data available on violence against women.

The NGO Cambodian Women's Crisis Center (CWCC) keeps its own statistics

based on court cases filed by women seeking its assistance dealing with

abusive spouses. Some 572 women went to court in the first six months

of 2007 with the help of CWCC offices in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and

Banteay Meanchey.

Nop Sarin Sreyroth, general secretary of the crisis center, said the

group does not have national figures and most domestic-violence cases

are never reported. Police will intervene only in extreme cases.

"Domestic violence happens everywhere in Cambodia, not only in the city

but also in the countryside, [both among] poor and rich," explained Hor

Phally, executive director of the Phnom Penh-based Project Against

Domestic Violence (PADV).

She said in most households the man is the only one earning money, so

many women remain in violent marriages because leaving would make their

future uncertain.

But Heng Theary decided to take a stand against the beatings and abuse she's endured from her husband for so long.

"I can no longer tolerate his violence against me, so I decided to

complain to local police so they will arrest and punish him according

to the law. I will also request a divorce," she said.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HAPPENS EVERYWHERE

IN CAMBODIA...

More women are making the same choice, according

to the CWCC. Nop Sarin Sreyroth said as women become more aware that

they also have rights, they choose to leave abusive marriages.
Changing the law

A domestic-violence law passed in 2005 has provided stronger legal frameworks to prosecute abusers.

But while it looks good on paper, its practice in real life is somewhat different.

"We support the idea of further protection [for women], but it has been

implemented very slowly," Nop Sarin Sreyroth said. "Now we are trying

to teach local police and authorities how to use the law."

She said a second law in 2007 raised concerns by increasing the cost

for divorce hearings. Prior to its implementation, the CWCC would pay

between US$10 and $15 to administer a divorce case. Now the fees have

risen to as much as $50.

"We pay for the women who come to us for help, but in rural areas where

we are not present, many poor women cannot afford to separate from

their husbands," she said.

Changing attitudes

Nop Sarin Sreyroth believes one key to reducing violence against women

is to change perspectives among men, many of whom consider their wives

to be personal property rather than partners.

In her work with PADV, Hor Phally has seen these attitudes play out

through forced sex, which she says is one of the most atrocious aspects

of domestic violence.

"[Some] men regard women as sex slaves and believe they have the right

to sex whenever they want, whether their wife wants it or not," she

said.

Men must understand that sexual relationships without mutual agreement between husband and wife are in fact cases of rape.

A 42-year-old woman from Kampong Cham, who requested anonymity, said she has lived with this kind of abuse for years.

"Sometimes I do not feel well, but my husband forces me to have sex

with him," she said. "When I refuse, he gets angry and beats me, and

claims I have committed adultery to justify the violence," she said.

She tried to file a case against her husband with local police after

her husband  beat her unconscious, she said, but he threatened to burn

the house down if she did.

Despite a life lived in the shadow of her husband's aggressions, she

said she and her three children continue to endure the violence.

And while a growing number of women are taking a stand, many more still suffer the outrage of habitual abuse.

"We need more awareness and more intervention from police," said Nop

Sarin Sreyroth, while emphasising the need for long-term solutions.

"We should provide more education for young women. When they get a

better understanding of their rights and become more economically

independent, their situation will change."

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