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The Sok Bun assault and violence against

women in Cambodia

Sok Bun, left, and his victim EkSocheata, aka Miss SaSa.

By Alexandra Demetrianova-By Asian Correspondent Staff Jul 27, 2015

It took one real estate tycoon and a TV celebrity to bring the


daily reality for many women in Cambodia under an unprecedented spotlight. Violence
on women is widespread, but rarely it has been discussed so openly as is the case
this time. Millionaire Sok Buns assault on TV icon Ek Socheata, also known as Miss
SaSa, in one of Phnom Penhs restaurant was so brutal and the video leaked online so
graphic that no one could let it pass. Even PM Hun Sen commented on the case and
publicly called on Sok Bun to come forward, saying: Your money wont solve this.
The real estate millionaire offered Miss SaSa US$100,000 in compensation or possibly
as a bribe to drop charges. She refused, to surprise of no one. Millions of Cambodians
have seen SaSas social media photos with bruises on her face and body. There was
no way for Sok Bun, as prominent and rich as he is, to escape reality. And he didnt.
After calls from different state officials including Hun Sen himself, Sok Bun came out of

hiding (in Singapore or Cambodia according to different sources) and is now in being
investigated for the brutal assault. Reportedly hes been arrested.

A red circle shows Sok Buns bodyguard, in the top center image, grabbing his pistol as the actress throws her
phone at the tycoon. Pic: AP.

As well as the charges and prison sentence Sok Bun faces, he will be hard hit by the
loss of face. Footage from security camera in the Phnom Penh restaurant shows him
savagely beating Ek Socheata, pulling her by hair and even kicking her as she falls on
the ground. His rage is assisted by a driver/security guard, who at one point charges
his gun and points it at the head of the helpless woman being kicked and beaten on
the floor. Staff in the restaurant were obviously afraid to interfere physically. The
assault took place when Miss SaSa refused to let him drag her intoxicated Japanese
friend away with him. A refusal and will to protect the well-being of a friend was met
with brutal rage and total disregard for free will. Thanks to vibrant social media, the
video has received millions of views. Never before has violence on women been
shown so publicly and graphically exposed in Cambodia. Moreover, the incident
involved celebrities and powerful people and thats certainly the reason why the script
was rather different to what Cambodia is used to.
Ek Socheata belongs to a well-known family in Cambodia and therefore is in a
powerful position apart from her fame as an ex-TV host. If she were an ordinary
Cambodian woman, she would probably never have reported the crime and/or would
be silenced with money or threats. Whether it was her famous personality or the
brutality of the assault, Sok Bun immediately fled into hiding. The powerful real estate
magnate has given up his oknha title, given to those who make significant financial
and development contributions to Cambodia. He also stepped down from top
leadership and representative positions he held. And inevitably, Sok Bun offered
money first US$40,000, then US$100,000. But Miss SaSa has stood strong, leading
by example for many other women: I refuse to let anyone use money to buy
freedom. Shes hoping Sok Bun will be punished according to the law.

Object 1

Sok Bun even pleaded for his freedom directly to PM Hun Sen saying he needed
to fulfill my obligation as a father and husband for my family. But no matter how hard
Sok Bun tried, it was too late. Interior Minsiter Sar slammed officials obstructing just
procedure, saying it would be an insult to Prime Minister and the police. PM Hun Sen
said: Committing such violence on a weak woman I cant believe a person who has
money, a good reputation and a [royal title] could commit such a crime.
This statement really suggests that people who are rich, famous and revered by
society dont commit crimes or violence on women. But just the opposite is true.
Violence on women knows no poverty or status bounds, and happens at every level of
society. But in Cambodia, the justice system has been traditionally favorable to those
who have status and money. Many cases of violence, deadly accidents and even
murder end with pay-offs by those powerful or rich enough to walk free. Given the
ongoing widespread poverty in Cambodia, mainly in rural areas, it can often be
considered moral and ethical to pay money to the victim or the grieving family, and can
lead to a suspended or reduced sentence.
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But violence against women in Cambodia is a whole other matter. While there are laws
in place to protect women, the local justice system rarely enforces them. According to
various research and surveys, domestic violence is still widely considered a private
issue. Victims often dont report physical violence. A report from 2014 on violence on
women and law enforcement found that 76 percent of interviewed victims never
sought help after physical assaults and 42 percent thought violence can be excused if
the attacker was under influence of alcohol. Therefore Miss SaSas case and the
publicity of Sok Buns assault can have a positive outcome in Cambodia. Although
much still depends on the process and verdict if and how Sok Bun is prosecuted
calls for his arrest and condemnation of the brutal attack by public and top officials in
the country are unprecedented. Also, Miss SaSas refusal to be bought is a positive
example for Cambodian women.
Much remains to be done in Cambodia and the crusade against violence on women
continues. Sexual violence for example is a serious issue in daily life of Cambodian
women. A UN multi-country study from 2013 found, that one in five Cambodian men
admitted to raping their partner at least once in their life. Out of those, 53 percent were
19 years old and younger when they committed their first rape. Half of the interviewed
women believed they couldnt refuse sex with their husband.

Cambodian actress Miss Sasa, 28, whose real name is Ek Socheata, speaks to
journalists after the vicious assault. Pic: AP.
A survey conducted last year prior to Valentines Day found, that almost half of the
young men interviewed admitted to engage in non-consensual sex with female
partners on the international love day, even if the women refuse. Love and Sexual
Relationships by independent public health researcher Tong Soprach interviewed
women and men aged 15-24 years old. This survey drew fears of rape culture, which
is evidently present in Cambodia.
Moreover, gang rape is also an existing social phenomenon in Cambodia. It is known
asbauk, literally meaning plus. Research by Tong Soprach investigating the
prevalence of bauk in Cambodia interviewed moto-taxi drivers across the country.
What they found was shocking gang rape is present in 21 of 24 Cambodias
provinces. Bauk often happens to sex workers, hired by one man, only to be gang
raped by his friends. Sex workers feel reluctant to seek help or report the crimes
because they are stigmatized by their profession. The author of the research told
Cambodian media, that the young men committing bauk think its funny.
What is ultimately shocking is Cambodias government response to these surveys.
Unlike Sok Bun and Miss SaSas case, no state official has ever been willing to admit
that rape is a serious issue in Cambodia. Rather, they avoid the topic. After the
Valentines Day survey last year, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport said in a
statement it regrets that a small number of youths follow foreign cultures without

consideration and think that the 14th of February, Valentines Day, is the day that they
shall sacrifice their bodies for sweethearts and cause the loss of personal and family
dignity. In between the lines, the language of Cambodian government chooses to
basically blame rape on foreign culture. The Ministry followed shortly after, saying that
the statement should remind the youth that sometimes they are confused on
Valentines Day and do things that conflict with the Cambodian culture.
About the author
Alexandra Demetrianova is a freelance journalist based in Bangkok covering politics,
society and life in Southeast Asia. She specializes in human rights, environment and
development. Originally from Slovakia, she is currently finishing a Masters degree in
International Relations at the Faculty of Political Science at Thammasat University.
Posted by Thavam