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For Victims of Sexual Violence, a Lifelong Struggle for Mental Health

Screenshot of Cambodian Center for the Protection of Children’s Rights at
Screenshot of Cambodian Center for the Protection of Children’s Rights at

Victims of sexual violence can often have difficulty reintegrating into society, but experts say the healing process from such assault can be a lifelong struggle.

Improving the mental health of victims of sexual violence is one of the most critical parts of the rehabilitation process, Pok Bunna, the director of the Cambodian Center for the Protection of Children’s Rights, which runs a shelter in Phnom Penh, told VOA Khmer.

The healing process can vary significantly from one case to another, so constant monitoring of a victim’s mental health can be required, she said.

“There were cases where our girls visited home, but they did not receive healthy and positive treatment from people in their community,” she said. “Our girls’ mentality then was devastated.”

Heang Da-ne, 17, says a sexual assault at a young age made her insecure, and she found it hard to trust people. She has lived at the shelter since 2011, where she has received mental health care and education, including in computer skills and English. “It took me a very long time to trust people again,” she told VOA Khmer recently. “But I am now very strong and can stand on my own.”

Asked about her family, she gave a big smile. “My parents are very proud of me, because I am now in school and have become a very good student,” she said. People in her community, too, are pleased to see her grow positively, because in her village, it is rare for a girl to be educated, she said.

Som Borei, 19, is a very different case. She remains shy and wary, even though she has been in the shelter since 2008. It was not until last year that she started to change for the better and have more trust in people. She told VOA Khmer she is happy now. “Whenever I feel bad about myself, I usually talk with friends,” she said. She trusts Pok Bunna now for advice, she said.

“We train our girls how to stay strong and positive as a way to deal with all forms of unwanted discrimination,” Pok Bunna said. Through community-based education forums, families of victims have become “incredibly supportive” of their daughters, she said. “Support and encouragement from family and community are the cornerstones of our girls’ resilience,” she said.

Seng Kimhoung, a 14-year-old 8th-grader at Beltei International School, said she reminds her female peers to be extremely careful when they are alone. She supports victims of assault, she said. “I support her to move on, because we still have a long way to go to build our future.”