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Cambodian Women in US Struggle With Abuse


Cambodian women and children are under threat of domestic violence in their American homes, living with physical or emotional scars and often feeling they cannot escape. However, two social workers told VOA Khmer, help is available.

“Domestic violence among Cambodian-Americans in society is committed by men against their wives, girlfriends, or children,” said Prom Sony, a domestic violence counselor for the Cambodian Association of America, in Long Beach, Calif.

As a result of the violence, women suffer from post-traumatic stress and paranoia, Om Raksmie, a domestic violence case manager, told VOA Khmer in an interview. Cambodians in America face two especially difficult problems in terms of assimilation. First, there are many Cambodian families in America experiencing intense cultural conflicts. Second, some refugees find the effects of multiple traumas suffered during the civil war and the Khmer Rouge interfering with their daily lives.

Cambodian women are valued for their domestic abilities, including childrearing. Many manage their families’ budgets and, from an American point of view, seem relatively powerful. But they cannot challenge their fathers, uncles, husbands, or even grown sons in public.

Prom Sony said in an interview that Cambodian women who struggle in abusive relationships continue to provide good care for their children. She recounted the story of a woman abused by her ex-husband for many years, even as she raised four girls.

“This woman was abused physically, emotionally and financially,” Prom Sony said. “She has a scar on her face until today from a hard object that her husband used to hit her face. For her protection, the woman was evacuated to a women’s shelter in Arizona for a year. Her ex-husband was arrested a few weeks after the incident. Nowadays this lady survives on her own, raising all four daughters by herself. She’s an independent woman and still single. Besides raising the four children, she also has to take care of her elderly disabled mother. This lady is working full time at a doughnut shop to support the family. To this day, her ex-husband hasn’t paid any child support and has even asked to reunite with her, though she refused.”

While physical abuse can cause severe and long-lasting scars, emotional and psychological abuse can be even more devastating. It can make the victim feel isolated and helpless, as if she cannot escape the situation.

“This is not true,” Prom Sony said. “Resources are available to help the victims of domestic violence and their children. The Cambodian Association of America provides services and activities such as domestic violence education, advocacy and court-document support, support groups, group counseling and much more.”

Om Raksmie described a single mother with four children, two boys and two girls. The woman was physically attacked and medically treated for her injuries.

“She was hospitalized for several months,” Om Raksmie said. “This woman was stabbed seven times in her chest and was also cut open along her abdomen. She sustained a severe head injury from a hard object that was used to hit her. At first, the first doctor was very pessimistic that she’d be able to survive her injuries. Now she is disabled and has lost some of her memories. Prior to this, this woman raised four children on her own. Her abuser is currently serving a life sentence in jail. This victim was living at a shelter for abused women with all of her children. Now she is on her own with her three children, as her eldest son has moved out.”

The problem of domestic violence is multifaceted. The abused woman’s response is directly related to the family origin, culture and society in which she lives. The abuse is cyclical, as many women who are victims have witnessed abuse in their homes since they were children.

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