An American woman was sexually assaulted in Kompong Thom province while walking alone at night in October, the US State Department said in its most recent consular report on Cambodia, which was updated Tuesday.
While the victim was not named, the report almost certainly refers to the widely publicized case of a South Carolina woman who was reportedly beaten, raped, wrapped in barbed wire and left unconscious in a rice paddy in Baray district’s Chong Doung commune, where she had moved with her family to start a grassroots health clinic.
Although the case has received much attention on local blogs and message boards, fuelled by the brutality of the alleged crime and by her husband James Garcia’s willingness to discuss it at length publicly, it has proven difficult to confirm.
The US Embassy in Phnom Penh declined yesterday to comment on the case, or to confirm that the reported rape case was that of Mr Garcia’s wife, citing privacy concerns.
Baray District Police Chief Mey Chhem dismissed the rape claim yesterday, claiming the woman was mentally ill and frequently wandered around the village naked, and that she was incoherent when she reported the crime.
“She could not give us clear information,” he said. “It seems impossible that this happened. She was walking around naked. She said that her husband raped her too.”
The couple sold their house and used the proceeds to move to Cambodia and start a clinic in March 2009, Mr Garcia said in numerous e-mails in December and January.
Along the way, they claim they encountered corruption in the health sector there, and believed the rape was retaliation for her threats to expose health officials.
Mr Garcia said Mr Chhem had refused to speak to him and his wife when they tried to report the rape, which he said they did later report to the embassy. The family has since returned to the US.
Although he confirmed his wife suffered from bipolar disorder and had dealt with bouts of severe depression, Mr Garcia said her symptoms were under control.
“It has very little to do with the attack, other than the mood disorder symptoms that made her someone you didn’t want to piss off (which the [Ministry of Health] frequently did),” he wrote.