Home Forums Voice, power and exclusion Khmer Rouge Sexual Violence Survival’s Silence

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  • #722 Reply

    Sotheary You

    Democratic Kampuchea (Khmer Rouge), controlled Cambodia from 17 April 1975 to 7 January 1979. Under this regime, at least 1.7 million people died from starvation, torture, execution and forced labour. In addition, sexual violence including forced marriage, rape, survival sex, forced sexual services, and sexual mutilation and humiliation was happening under this brutal regime. There is no statistical evidence on the exact number or identity of sexual violence victims, yet researches have found that the majority of the victims were women.

    Code no.6 of the Khmer Rouge regime is believed to be a cause of the victims’ silence under the regime. Code no.6 was one of the 12 codes of conduct of the Khmer Rouge regime which applied to entire population including members of Khmer Rouge itself.  The code is assumed to be a moral offence policy of the Khmer Rouge which is generally understood as an anti-sexual relations outside of marriage or anti-rape policy. However, the code contributed to the state enforcement of a culture of rape, and the victims were punished more often than perpetrators.

    More than three decades after the regime, women survivors still feel ashamed to speak out about their experiences during the regime. A dominant perspective of men as “gold” and women as “white cloths” teaches Cambodian women not to make mistakes, especially on the matter of their virginity, because “white cloths” are easy to get dirty and difficult to clean. The silence means an invisibility, yet an existence. Women survivors might not find adequate words to covey what it means to have experienced sexual abuses or to narrate their experiences in acceptable ways in a patriarchal society. Some survivors do not intend to recall what happened to them in the past because of the pain. Some do not want to reveal what happened to them because of the fear of unacceptability in their community, and some survivors feel forced to leave their hometown to resettle in faraway locations in order to escape stigma, exclusion and discrimination. Many forced marriage survivors chose to forgive and live with their (partner) husband after Khmer Rouge, but, this is not the case in many circumstances.

    The Extraordinary Cambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) include forced marriage in case 002/02 as a crime against humanity. Victims and witnesses of forced marriage have an opportunity to demand justice through testifying on the forced marriage events that happened during Khmer Rouge, yet other types of sexual violence cannot be heard in this way before the court. Overlooking other types of sexual violence can reinforce the silence of women survivors in some ways. It might imply that the experiences of brutal sexual abuses against women during Khmer rouge do not matter to the court or to society as a whole. This also discourages women from speaking out or seeking help for their trauma. The remaining question for transitional justice process in Cambodia is how Cambodian society can pursue peace by abandoning a group of societal members in the process of peace building.  

    #726 Reply

    Kakada Kuy

    While I agree survivors from all gender-based violence cases should have a voice in the justice system through the ECCC, we should also consider impacts of exposing rape victims in public hearings. The women may choose to remain silent because of shame or want no more triggers of traumatic experiences they had had. That said, gathering a strong voice of women survivors of rape and other sexual cases may shred light for future judicial consideration.

    With regard to peacebuilding, I opine, without justice, peace will never be realized for most of the survivors of gender-based violence. Besides taking a judicial approach to justice, reconciliation process must be inclusive of mental health consideration for those who got trumatized by those experiences being recalled in the present day.

    #729 Reply

    Kimlay Leav

    A great piece of writing as a wake up call for the integration of sexual abuses during the regime into further invention. Rape has been the most intrusive traumatic cases during the genocide period. Apparently, rape not only affects individual victims and their families but cultural and spiritual values of our society. Our cultural values can be the entry-barrier for the case before court. However, I am strong supporter for justice. Post dramatic stress will last even longer when “shame” is still embedded into the victims’ very mind.

    #730 Reply

    Phirith KEO

    Merci pour les idées sur le silence et le viol sexuel durant le régime de khmer rouge, entant que je suis jeune de nouvelle génération, je ne connais pas la situation réelle pendant cette période mais j’ai entendu par mes parents et par les autres victimes qu’ils m’ont raconté que des meurtres, des tortures et des viols sexuels ont vraiment existés à cette époque-là. Des victimes n’ont pas d’occasion de dire et contre les cadres khmers rouges devant le parquet de la justice en raison de caher leurs souffrances pour sauver leur vie. Les victimes vivent avec le silence et leur maladie spychique émotionnelle (traumatisme) jusqu’au présent à cause de la honte. Durant le régime de Pol Pot, ils respirent avec la douleur en échangeant la vie et maintenant, ils demeurent avec le silence en échangeant la cache de leur honte devant leur famille. En un mot, ils vivent avec la peine. Ce résultat me donne des preuvres de ne pas avoir la liberté d’expression et l’égalité homme-femme et enfant durant la période de chemise noir. Pour moi, je suis pour et supporte vraiment les ONG pourqu’elles puissent aider les victimes en cherchant leur justice et faire soulager leur traumatisme.

    #731 Reply

    Hong Naysim

    En tant que je suis un psychologue qui a travaillé avec des victimes (des femmes). Je voudrais vous dire merci pour cette histoire. Comme vous avez dit dans le texte l’époque de Khmère rouge, la faim, des tortures, des viols sexuels et aussi des mariages forcés ont vraiment existé. Les victimes vivent avec la souffrance psychique et elles n’ont pas la liberté de les dire par rapport la culture et aussi les règles que les femmes doivent respecter. Les victime du viol sexuel ou mariage forcé ont décidé de cacher et continuent le silence.  


    La vie de la douleur, la honte, les discriminations sans traitement psychologique et aussi sans justice et doivent cacher ce n’est pas facile pour sa vie quotidienne et il y a des conséquences négative sur leur jeune génération aussi par le style parental (c’est mon idée juste). Je suis d’accord et support si les victimes souhaitent de trouver la justice et je suis vraiment support s’elles ont besoin des services de traitement avec l’aide de l’ONG en particulier le travail avec leur traumatisme.

    #732 Reply

    Thavy Hout

    Thank you for sharing this article! It is interesting that the author has mentioned Cambodian conventional belief to be the cause to the silence of sexual violence victims during the brutal regime. I strongly agree that this belief has really intreched in Cambodia society, in way of life and in decision making of women. Women refused to reveal her pain in front of herself and her own family, not to mention the public and the court.

    Justice is generally believed to be the very thing that the victims should have. However, as audience to stories we are told, we can only encourage the victims to stand up for themselves; the ultimate decision maker remains the victims – they, who went through the pains, decide. Because on top of justice, more important than anything else is how they are going to live their lives after this ugly past is disclosed.

    Having said so, I still have faith in justice that no perpetrators should face no law. They, who commit the crime, deserve lawful punishment. However, let the victims be their own agent to decide.

    A little critique to it, though, is whether it is more rational to spend millions of dollars on court or to spend the money on creating programs that helps heal the victims’ pain and that provides them with supports to live their lives.

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