|© UNICEF video|
|Phlat is receiving support from the Cambodian Women's Crisis Centre to help her recover from the trauma of her ordeal.|
SIEM REAP, Cambodia, 4 December 2008 – In the rural village of Prolet, 17-year-old Phlat sits on the bare floor of her simple timber and thatch house and recounts the trauma she has had to overcome after being sexually assaulted.
“I shut out memories of it," she says, suppressing tears. "I keep myself busy at home. And I have made lots of friends at school who help me to overcome this.”
Sitting with Phlat is a worker from the Cambodian Women's Crisis Centre (CWCC). For the past six months, this worker has helped Phlat recover from her ordeal. A UNICEF partner, the CWCC is dedicated to helping women and children who are the victims of rape, trafficking or domestic violence.
The CWCC is located in a large house in the nearby city of Siem Reap. On the front yard, children and women who have sought refuge here sing and play. Inside, a literacy class for teenage girls and women is underway.
Sitting in the second row of the class, Maol, age 16, concentrates on the lesson. She came to the centre recently and still bears physical scars on her neck from the attack. This is the first time she has received any formal schooling.
"At the beginning, after the rape, I felt very depressed and ashamed," she says. "I felt all the other villagers would look down on me."
‘I realized I should live’
Fighting a general apathy towards sexual exploitation and domestic violence, as well as discrimination against its victims, has been a challenge for the CWCC. But the centre is seeing progress.
According to the centre's coordinator, Ket Noeun: “People here used to think domestic violence was a private matter, in the family. But now many more people know it is the problem of the whole community.”
In the countryside, there seems to be an increased willingness to report and prosecute sexual exploitation, thanks in part to efforts by community workers from the Commune Focal Point for Women and Children, who coordinate non-governmental organizations and government agencies to help victims.
Phlat is living proof of the importance of such help. She is now enrolled in school and her attacker is in jail.
“After the rape I only wanted to die,” she says. “But when I started talking to other victims, I asked ‘Why should I die?’ I realized I should live.”
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