4 Years Later, Little Peace for Acid Attack Victim

kompong cham district, Kom­pong Cham province – More than four years after her sight and her beauty were seared away by acid, 22-year-old Sun Samphos says she is still plagued by the thought that her attackers remain free.

In return for $125 compensation, Sun Samphos in 2002 dropped the charges against the mother and son who attacked her. Not be­cause the pair didn’t douse her with acid, but because Sun Sam­phor was so poor.

The mother and 14-year-old son were released on bail, and later were sentenced in absentia to a year in prison and 2 1/2 years’ probation. But four years later, they have not spent a day of that sentence in jail.

A recent report by local rights group Licadho indicates that since 2003, media reports of acid attacks have declined slightly. But rights workers are quick to add that the re­ports reflect a fraction of the cases, and that many reported acid attacks go unprosecuted.

In the middle of 2001, Sun Sam­phos says, she fell in love with a businessman she met while working at a beer garden. She says she believed that the man, who bought her jewelry, paid her living expenses and spent days at a time with her in a rented room, was single.

She learned he was married on May 15, 2002, when, nine months pregnant with his child, she was attacked with acid by her lover’s wife and son as she was walking home.

Sun Samphos was left blinded and horribly disfigured. Her baby, born days later, lived for only a week.

Though acid attacks perpetrated by wives against mistresses are usually intended to make straying husbands lose interest by disfiguring the woman, Sun Samphos’ case was an exception: She continued to see the man whose wife at­tacked her, and he continued to sup­port her.

The two now have a two-year-old child, whom Sun Samphos raises alone. Sun Samphos says her relationship with the man has since failed, and that they no longer have contact.

The Licadho report says that 108 acid attacks, which claimed a total of 179 victims, were reported in local newspapers between 1999 and 2006. Six of these attacks killed their victims, while the others in­flicted serious injuries and terrible disfigurement.

Twenty-five additional cases were reported directly to Licadho over the same time period.

A Licadho official working in Phnom Penh who declined to be named said he believed that acid at­­tacks have in fact become more frequent since 2003.

“Actually, there are more acid at­tacks happening in our society but some victims did not lodge complaints with our NGO for intervention, and some others feel shy to re­veal their issues,” he said.

He said that attackers seldom face punishment or jail time, and that only three of the 25 cases ad­dressed by Licadho have resulted in jail sentences. Six of the cases are still in court, he said.

Chan Panny and her teenaged son Kao Mengly were arrested on the day they attacked Sun Sam­phos in 2002. They were detained at Kompong Cham provincial pris­on for two months before being re­leased on bail by the investigating judge.

In October 2002, though Sun Samphos had dropped charges in re­turn for compensation, a court sentenced the mother and son in ab­sentia, and the mother was also ordered to pay a fine of $1,250.

To date, Chan Panny has not faced jail time or paid fines to the court.

Presiding Judge Be Kimyeang said the pair were charged with in­tentionally causing injury.

Khieu San, the former investigating judge in Kompong Cham pro­vincial court who now works in Bat­tambang provincial court, confirmed that the suspects had been re­­leased on bail, but said he could not remember why he decided to re­lease them.

Until her attack, Sun Samphos says, life as a young mistress was a welcome reprieve from abuses of the past. Raped by a neighbor at 16, the teenager fled her home village in 1999. She accepted a job as a waitress to support herself, but instead was sold to brothels to work as a prostitute, first in Kom­pong Cham and later in Phnom Penh.

She escaped from a Phnom Penh brothel in mid-2001, returning to Kompong Cham to work at a beer garden. Soon after, she met the man she thought would change her luck for good.

“He gave me everything that I wanted…and supported me $10 each day but he never told me whether he had a wife or not,” she said. “I thought that he was single because he spent all night and day living with me in a rented room.”

Sun Samphos now lives with her daughter from their ill-fated relationship, her mother and her younger brother in Kompong Cham.

Her young brother, Sun Sok­huoch, 12, said that one day there might be justice for his sister.

“Using acid to attack a mistress, you will become a criminal so when­ever the judicial system is in­dependent, you will be punished in jail,” the 12-year-old said.

Neighbors express sympathy for Sun Samphos’ misfortune, but they also express frustration—with the impunity that many attackers enjoy and with the commonly held belief that mistresses somehow de­serve the brutality inflicted on them.

Kunthea, 43, is Sun Samphos’ neighbor and has been a married man’s mistress for several years, since her own husband’s death.

She says acid in the hands of a scorned wife will not solve infidelity, and that mistresses have the right to personal safety.

“It is a serious crime,” Kunthea said. “People must stop thinking that bad karma was why she was at­tacked with acid.”

 

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