Outrage emanated from all quarters of society Thursday following the circulation of security camera footage showing a businessman viciously assaulting a female former television personality at a restaurant in Phnom Penh earlier this month.
On Wednesday afternoon, social media users began sharing and commenting on the footage of Sok Bun, a real estate magnate and president of the Cambodian Valuers and Estate Agents Association, kicking, punching, stripping and stomping on the head of Ek Socheata, an entertainer and former television presenter better known as Sasa, after she attempted to protect another women from his unwanted advances.
With a handgun drawn, Mr. Bun’s bodyguard also took part in the assault, holding the woman down, briefly putting the pistol to her head and deflecting a waiter’s attempts to intervene.
Women’s rights advocates said the attack illuminated the belief, entrenched in Cambodian society, that rich and powerful men have the right to treat women like lesser beings.
Mr. Bun earlier this year announced a $500-million development project on Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changva peninsula in which he has a 51 percent stake. He holds the prestigious title of “oknha,” which is reserved for those who make significant financial contributions to the government.
Ms. Socheata said Thursday that she had filed complaints at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court against both Mr. Bun and his bodyguard for attempted murder on July 2, the same day as the assault.
Hing Bunthan, a deputy prosecutor at the court, said that Mr. Bun was summoned for questioning over the incident on Wednesday, nearly a week after Ms. Socheata filed her complaint.
Sok Khemerin, director of the Interior Ministry’s penal police department, confirmed that his officers were searching for Mr. Bun and said rumors that the businessman had fled to Singapore could be true.
“If he doesn’t run, he will hide,” he said.
Major General Khemerin said Ms. Socheata had filed complaints against Mr. Bun and his bodyguard for intentional violence under aggravating circumstances, not attempted murder. However, he said no assumptions would be made until Mr. Bun had a chance to explain himself.
“We cannot listen to just one side. Now we have just one side,” he said, adding that police were also looking for the bodyguard, who had not been identified.
On social media at least, Cambodia was gripped by footage of the attack, which shows Mr. Bun dragging Ms. Socheata by her hair across a table, pinning her to the ground and repeatedly striking her with his fists and feet as he dragged her around the room, tearing off her clothes in the process.
Hun Many, the youngest son of Prime Minister Hun Sen and a CPP lawmaker for Kompong Speu province, took to Facebook—where the video was widely circulated and commented on—to make his stance known.
“No matter what the problem is, all uses of violence against women as a solution is something that society cannot accept and is an act that must be condemned,” he wrote on his personal page.
In a speech, Handicrafts Minister Cham Prasidh said that any officials at his ministry who were caught using violence against women would be fired.
“I have to do it. I will do it. I declare it today,” he said of his decision.
In a telephone interview Thursday afternoon, Ms. Socheata, who said she was preparing to fly to either Bangkok or Singapore to receive treatment for her injuries, gave her version of events that led up to the attack.
She said the Japanese owner of the Le Gand restaurant on Koh Pich island had been drinking with Mr. Bun and his bodyguard—an obligation of the host.
“The guy [Mr. Bun] made her drink until she was drunk, and then Sok Bun paid the bill and went away” with his bodyguard, she said, adding that the Japanese woman, whom she declined to name, fell asleep on the couch where she had been drinking.
A few minutes later, the two men walked back into the restaurant with the intention of taking the Japanese woman with them, by force if necessary, Ms. Socheata said.
“The bodyguard kept scolding me and raising his gun towards me, so I threw my phone at his hands to stop him pointing the gun at me…. Then they all came to hit me,” she said.
Thida Khus, an NGO director and prominent advocate for gender equality, said the incident was emblematic of a society in which the rich and powerful perceive those working in the service industry as slaves.
“These men took it another step because they believe they have ownership and, like some men, look down on women as sex slaves, as toys that they can do whatever they want to,” she said.
While the social media spotlight may help force the hand of justice in this case, she said, Facebook comments also provided some insight into how gender inequality is perpetuated in Cambodia.
“There are comments from women on Facebook, such as, ‘If they are good women, why are they out at nighttime,’” she said.
Social media allowed the grainy black-and-white security camera footage to be viewed by many, but such violence is nothing new to the thousands of women working in the country’s service industry, Ms. Khus added.
“They’ve seen it with their own eyes many times,” she said. “It’s only new to us, the people who don’t frequent those places at night.”
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