Tortured Boy on Slow Path of Moving On

The boy’s father said the 2-year-old’s demeanor had improved since leaving Mondolkiri province, where he was subjected to days of torture, if not more. But the trauma keeps resurfacing.

The toddler is easily frightened by visitors and often recoils from people, cries and yearns for his mother, the father said.

Over the course of four days in August, Nguyen Than Dung shot about 50 smartphone videos of himself torturing the boy.

When a few of the videos were leaked online, showing the boy screaming as he is repeatedly poked with an electric prod, they were met with an outpouring of anger at the 34-year-old Vietnamese man and pity for the Cambodian toddler.

With Mr. Nguyen and his Dutch boyfriend—who was charged for not reporting the crime—now behind bars, the boy’s family has moved away from the cacao plantation where the abuse occurred and now face the difficult task of moving on while dealing with the pain.

“Since we left there to come here, he has felt better,” the boy’s father said.

The Child Protection Unit, which was involved in the initial investigation and is continuing to look after the family, had advised the family on potential trauma symptoms, he said.

He and his wife were told to spend more time with the child and that “we should not shout at him because it might affect the child’s emotions.”

“If the kid behaves unusually, I can call them,” he said, referring to CPU officials.

In the immediate aftermath of the footage being leaked, the child was taken for a medical checkup at the Royal Phnom Penh Hospital, paid for by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s eldest daughter Hun Mana. The hospital has since offered free follow-ups, the boy’s father added, though the family had yet to take up the offer.

The family’s livelihood, rather than mental recovery, was the main focus of the support most have offered so far, the father said. The outpouring of support from NGOs, government officials and tycoons had transformed the family’s life since the incident.

“Before, we were struggling,” he said of life working on a plantation owned by Stefan Struik, the suspect’s boyfriend. “Now, we feel safe and our living situation is different from before.”

Mong Reththy, a construction and agriculture magnate, has given him a job on one of his mango plantations along with housing and three meals daily for the family of five. Mr. Hun Sen has additionally offered the family 500,000 riel (about $125) and two sacks of rice per month through next year, he said.

Micaela Cronin, the CEO of Hagar International, an NGO that works with child victims of abuse and trauma, said the effects of the abuse suffered by the 2-year-old could affect the boy and his family for some time.

“Extreme trauma such as that experienced in this situation can have lasting negative effects on the child and families,” she said. “It can be very frightening and difficult to understand the impact and repercussions of trauma…. It is critical to work with the whole family and to provide support and education to key individuals in the child and families’ lives, such as teachers.”

James McCabe, head of the CPU, a policing charity, said Hagar had recommended an NGO that would work with the parents to identify symptoms of trauma and seek help when they arise.

“He’s only 2 years old,” Mr. McCabe said. “He’s just finding his feet.”

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