The Cambodian Women's Oral History Project collects testimonials from women who survived the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime that ruled Cambodia between 1975-1979. Unique in its life story approach, the project aims to increase understanding of the ways in which women were uniquely impacted by the atrocity, including as victims of widespread sexual violence and gender-based abuse. This is a story that has been silenced and neglected for close to 40 years.
The Khmer Rouge regime resulted in one of the worst humanitarian crises in human history. The ultra-Communist government instituted a rigid authoritarian system of nationwide forced slave labor, collective living, forced marriage and repeated forced displacement. More than a quarter of the total population is estimated to have perished during the period from starvation, overwork, illness, ethnic and religious persecution, torture and execution, among other causes.
Women experienced sexual and gender-based violence above and beyond the many other indignities and violations of the total atrocity. However, the full scope and breadth of gender-specific sexualized crimes have yet to be accounted for as part of the historical record or in reconstituting justice.
Today, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is adjudicating the crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge leadership. Distinctly absent from the charges of the ECCC are crimes of sexual violence outside of forced marriage. Indeed, for too long a common belief holds that rape was prohibited under the regime, and harshly punished when it did occur. Yet, the stories shared on this site suggest such violence was a lived reality for many women, and that perpetrators most often went unpunished while victims faced shame, blame, and punishment.
In having their voices heard, their faces shown, the women whose testimonials are featured here break age-old taboos against survivors speaking out about violence against women. Although victims of horrendous crimes, the narrators are active agents of change, refusing to be fully defined by the violence afflicted against them and determined to share their stories to end violence against women in any and every context.
The Cambodian Women's Oral History Project will ultimately include testimonies from throughout Cambodia. In sharing the full arc of their life story, narrators recount the violence accompanying the long civil war before the Khmer Rouge took power, as well as the long-term impacts of societal instability and personal trauma experienced even today by survivors. At the project's completion, full transcripts and video-audio archives will be held in a public repository for access to researchers and the public from Cambodia and around the world. Most importantly, these archives will be preserved for history and for future generations of the narrators' families and communities.
The project upholds a rigorous informed consent process, and special attention is paid to narrators' security and psychological well-being in recounting their traumatic stories. Narrators have provided permission to post their testimonies and videos online here, with each narrator self-selecting the excerpt included on the site. Each has stressed that her name and face be revealed to combat the contorted cultural expectation that victims hide in secret, silence and shame. The explicit aim of every narrator is to share her story with a new generation and with a global audience, and internet is enthusiastically embraced by the narrators to meet that goal. Posted on the site are actual transcriptions with only light editing for meaning and consistency.
The Cambodian Women's Oral History Project is self-funded. The project is based in Phnom Penh, with narrators interviewed in their home settings and in a supportive environment. Interviews are conducted in the native language of the narrator and with the aid of a translator (Khmer to English). The project is lead by Theresa de Langis, an independent consultant on women, peace and security issues based in Cambodia since late 2011. The research team includes You Sotheary as senior project assistant, with Thorn Sina serving as translator and transcriber from February to May 2012 . Student volunteers from area universities have also provided indispensable assistance with note taking, translation and transcription of interviews. The Field Notes page recounts our experiences in collecting each testimony and visiting the homes of narrators.
Special thanks is owed to local NGOs working in Cambodia, who served as intermediaries for narrators and volunteers for the project. These include Cambodian Defenders Project, Transcultural Psychosocial Organization, Youth for Peace, and the Youth Resource Development Program. Francesca Bini, an Italian university student and photographer, is the creative mind in introducing us to a low-cost and user-friendly web platform so that testimonial excepts can be shared with a global audience. She also provided the photography for narrator Nam Mon.
The Cambodian Women's Oral History Project is a shared authority initiative. As such, it is constantly evolving to best meet the needs and expectations of the narrators in having their voices heard and their experiences acknowledged. We hope you will visit often to see our progress. Please also feel free to contact me directly for more information, with suggestions, or with your impressions.
Material posted on this site is protected under the Creative Commons copyright. We are eager to share these stories and ask that you provide attribution to acknowledge the courage of the narrators and the hard work of the research team.
Theresa de Langis, PhD