Accessibility links

Khmer Rouge Continues to Haunt: Researcher

Cambodians living in the US continue to be haunted by the experiences under the Khmer Rouge, which can even affect their everyday behavior, a researcher said Saturday.

Speaking at a two-day gathering of Cambodian-Americans in Arlington, Va., over the weekend, Nou Leakhena, a sociology professor at Long Beach University, said the mental anguish has caused the loss of trust among Cambodians, including those in the US, and contributes to hopelessness, anxiety, headaches, nightmares and even suicide attempts.

“The wound that our people in Cambodia received after going through the Khmer Rouge regime is deep, and it mentally affects them,” she told VOA Khmer. “It makes them resort to violence, drinking, gambling, having girlfriends in brothels, and the loss of trust. These are symptoms related to Khmer Rouge regime.” Many of those suffering are not aware of the causes, she said.

Cambodians living in the United States and Cambodia are suffering from trauma from the Khmer Rouge’s brutal regime and as a result it affects their daily interaction, according to a research by a Cambodian-US sociological professor in Long Beach University.

Nou Leakhena spent more than five years researching Cambodian communities in the US and in their home country.

Even though the regime collapsed more than 30 years ago, mental wounds have not healed, she found. Instead, the symptoms were getting worse.

The meeting in Arlington was meant to promote mental healing and more understanding of the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

The program was initiated by the Applied Social Research Institute of Cambodia and Asian Pacific American Institute at New York University.

The outreach and testimony collecting was conducted in many places including Long Beach, Calif., where a large Cambodian immigrant population lives.

“Today we, the Cambodian-Americans, meet here to heal our mental wounds, which we have kept for so many years,” Yap Kimtung, president of the Cambodia-American for Human Rights and Democracy, and the main sponsor of the event, told VOA Khmer.

Gathered were more than 30 people who had lost loved ones, such as the youth, or their parents, to the regime and who were seeking justice.

Nou Leakhena told participants that one of the ways to heal their wounds and to help the entire society was to speak out without being shy, opening discussions with relatives or friends about the difficulties of the past.

She also encouraged victims to file testimony at the UN-backed tribunal in Phnom Penh, as it could be the only chance they will have to seek justice for themselves, even if the outcome is not easy to anticipate.

Attending the gathering was the first time was Sarah Kith, a mother of three who fled to the US in early 1980s with a widow whose husband died during the Khmer Rouge.

“I am here to encourage our Khmer people to speak out their story so that they restore their trust and won’t become dead while walking,” she said.