The first in-depth study on the treatment of LGBTI Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge has uncovered widespread sexual and emotional abuse.
All 48 interviewees for the study, which was released on Friday (27 February), reported having to hide their sexuality for fear of being killed, while many said they were subjected to forced marriage, rape and sexual abuse by Khmer Rouge soldiers and officials.
All the gay men and most of the transgender women surveyed said they had experienced sexual violence.
The Khmer Rouge was the name given to members of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, which ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. The KR are responsible for the deaths of up to 2,000,000 Cambodians, nearly a quarter of the country’s population, many in mass executions in the now infamous ‘killing fields.’
The study’s author, Kasumi Nakagawa, a Japanese professor of gender studies at Pannasastra University, said under the regime, it was a crime for a man to sexually abuse a woman but they got away with abusing men and trans women.
‘As far as I know in my research, no women were forced to do oral sex, but my research showed that gay men and transgender women were,’ she told the Cambodia Daily.
Seventeen transgender women said they were forced into marriages against their will, while transgender man Sok Yun was punished with extra hard labor for refusing to marry a man.
‘When I used to wear trousers, the Khmer Rouge told me "no" and tried to get me to wear a skirt,’ he said.
‘They warned me that if I did not follow their rules they would take me and kill me in the forest.’
Sou Sotheavy, a transgender rights activist, said she was raped by 14 Khmer Rouge soldiers and also performed sex acts in exchange for food.
‘When I was in one underground prison during the Khmer Rouge, soldiers would only give me pork and beef if I agreed to massage them and do sexual things for them,’ she said.
Sotheavy, 76, testified against the Khmer Rouge at the war crimes tribunal that ended in August. She said speaking about the horrors that much of the LGBTI community were subjected to was cathartic.
‘In the provinces especially, people that experienced the same as me can talk with each other, including experiences such as rape,’ she said. ‘This is helpful for us.’