Women and young girls who are living in our target area of Banteay Mean Chey province, an isolated and rural area, are particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses. Often, the survivors of rape and domestic violence and exploitation are afraid of reporting the identity of perpetrators to police for security reasons and social stigma.
Beginning this year, as part of CTC, in addition to counseling and reintegration support, LO has been able to add the routine provision of legal assistance to survivors in our safe shelter. This is a huge support for the women and girls residing in the shelter- as they recover and heal from their trauma, legal assistance works to hold their abusers accountable and ensure that they re-integrate into a safe environment.
This year, a second wave of Covid and subsequent lockdowns in Cambodia have limited the ability to implement CTC activities fully. Currently, the shelter is hosting 13 survivors and two family members. Riya* is one of the most recent residents to come to the safe shelter, we share her story below. It is a heartbreaking account and one that sounds all too familiar, as many of the survivors in our shelter are young girls aged 8-13.
CW: contains sexual assault
Riya is 10 years old, studying in the third grade. Riya’s father left her mother soon after she was born. A few months later, Riya’s mother remarried. Early on in their marriage, Riya’s stepfather showed abusive tendencies and often used violence against her and her mother to control and dominate their actions.
Riya’s mother supported the family with her day labor job, making barely enough to get by while the stepfather remained home all day, unemployed. Riya helped out with housework and took care of her younger step brother while her mother was away at work. In her mother’s absence, Riya was left alone with her stepfather. During these days at home, the stepfather raped Riya and threatened to kill her if she told anyone. This continued for several months. Trapped in an impossible situation, Riya remained quiet as her stepfather continued to abuse her.
In April, as her stepfather attempted to rape her yet again, Riya tried running out into the fields where her mother was working. He chased her into the fields, attempting to ensure that Riya wouldn’t say anything to her mother. However, when he felt assured and returned home, Riya found the courage to speak to her mother about the abuses she had endured. Riya told her mother everything that had happened to her and her mother immediately went to the village chief and the police to make a complaint. Her husband was arrested and taken to jail.
Riya was brought to the safe shelter by her mother in June of 2021. She has recieved comprehensive services while staying at the shelter, including medical treatment, mental health counselling, and legal assistance to take her court case forward.
With increased support to hold perpetrators accountable, survivors feel more ready to speak up and the cycle of abuse and stigma surrounding it can be broken. CTC is committed to creating a safe and supportive environment for young women and girls like Riya to process trauma, with the right support and encouragement we hope that they will be able to move forward and heal.
Riya* is a name given by the writer. Her real name is hidden to protect her privacy in accordance with the child protection policy of CWCC.
Meeting with government volunteer lawyer