Preliminary research in two provinces has found that a lack of implementation of the domestic violence law means that women continue to suffer abuse and more needs to be done to ensure that attitudes change and perpetrators are held accountable.
Katherine Brickell, senior lecturer in Human Geography at Royal Holloway at the University of London, spent two years surveying 1,177 men and women over the age of 18 in a bid to see how the Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and the Protection of the Victims' in Cambodia, which was passed in 2005, is preventing violence against women.
The preliminary findings, which were compiled in collaboration with Gender and Development for Cambodia and Dr. Bunnak Poch, found that 8 percent of women surveyed in Siem Reap province had been the victims of domestic violence, compared to 16 percent of women in Pursat province.
The report aims to deepen “understanding of why investments in domestic violence law are faltering and what action can be taken,” Ms. Brickell said, in a statement on her website.
“It seeks to produce a clearer picture of the challenges and hindrances which have resulted in a situation where large swathes of local authority staff, police officers and the general public, do not understand the law, or even know of its existence.”
The research found that the gap between law and its enforcement exists in part because of failures by the legal system to enforce the law, and because “Cambodian women are currently unable to embrace ‘active citizenship'—the claiming of legally and morally enforceable rights in relation to the state.”
While the research found that 92 percent of men and 90 percent of women indicated some knowledge of the domestic violence law, “there is confusion over women's rights and the translation of [the law] into concrete outcome.”
Only 6 percent of men said they knew about women's rights to a life free from domestic violence, while just 18 percent were aware that women have the right to equal justice and protection under the law.
The report found that discriminatory attitudes toward gender, weak law enforcement, traditions and customs and inadequate legal training are hindering proper implementation.
Economic dependence is also an issue for victims, with women feeling they do not have the choice to leave an abusive partner or claim their legal rights—81 percent of women and 75 percent of men believe women should stay at home and take care of the family.
Authorities sometimes used this dependence to encourage victims to stay with their abusive partners, the report found.
In the words of an unnamed male judge from Pursat province: “Khmer women are mostly dependent on their spouses for financial support…while I applaud the creation of such laws, I am having a hard time embracing it wholeheartedly because it lacks so much in terms of providing options for the victims and their families.
“Let's say that I sentence the perpetrator to jail. What I do is essentially take away the only provider of that family.”
A male police officer in Pursat said women who filed domestic violence complaints would change their minds after begging for their partners to be jailed.
“The law is here; the question is whether or not the victim will embrace it,” he said.
While the full report will not be available until later this year, the preliminary research has found that revising and cultivating awareness of the law and reducing women's economic dependence on men are some of the ways that could help close the gap between the law and its correct implementation.