He’s a real-estate tycoon. She’s a young television star. In the early hours of July 2, their lives collided in violence, when he grabbed her by the hair, threw her to the ground, then hit her, stomped her, and kicked her in the face. The graphic scene, captured by security cameras at a restaurant in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, has sparked outrage and a call for justice in a country where violence against women is common.
The actress, known as Sasa, filed a complaint and obtained a video of the assault from the restaurant, then posted it on Facebook. As the video circulated online, the attacker, reportedly a property magnate named Sok Bun, headed out of town to Singapore. He was arrested over the weekend on his way back home. His attorney told the Phnom Penh Post that he had returned home to take responsibility for his actions. If found guilty, he could face up to five years behind bars.
“They hit me like a ball,” the 28-year-old actress, also known as Ek Socheata, told Women in the World. On the video, the tycoon drags Sasa off a couch and slams her face to the ground, while his bodyguard points a gun at her and a restaurant employee apparently tries to intervene. “They were hitting me and I couldn’t see anything because it really hurt, more pain than I have met in my life.” She said the incident started when she tried to protect a friend from unwanted advances from the tycoon at a Japanese restaurant.
When she saw the video, she said, “I was shocked and crying while I watched what they did to me.” She said she decided to post the video online after a man called her and told her to drop the complaint. Sok Bun, 37, later offered to pay her $100,000, then doubled the offer, she told Women in the World. “I and my family declined,” she said.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called for Sok Bun’s arrest last week, according to The Associated Press. “Don’t think that because you have money you can escape,” he said. “What you have done is intolerable.”
Wealth and power carry serious weight in Cambodia, a country that consistently ranks as one of the poorest and most corrupt in the world. The Southeast Asian nation was decimated in the 1970s by the Khmer Rouge regime, which killed as many as 2 million people in a bid to create an agrarian society. Teachers, intellectuals and city dwellers were executed, starved, and worked to death, their families ripped apart.
Today, women often live in subservience; domestic violence and rape are prevalent problems, according to the United Nations. In a 2013 U.N. survey, 20 percent of men said they had raped a woman in their lifetime. Trafficking of women and girls into forced labor and sexual slavery is another serious problem, according to the U.S. State Department, which has said the country is not doing enough to hold traffickers accountable and prosecute the crimes.
The Cambodian video is the latest in a recent string of disturbing videos capturing men punching women — many in America. Earlier this month, Florida State University football player De’Andre Johnson was charged with battery after being caught on a surveillance camera punching a woman in the face at a Tallahassee bar. In the video, the woman sits at the bar while he tries to muscle his way in, apparently pushing against her. She turns around, the two argue, she raises her hand, and he punches her. After being kicked off the team, he apologized on Good Morning America. His lawyer has said that the woman made racial slurs to provoke him. Johnson has reportedly pleaded not guilty.
Also this month, a witness filmed a Panera Bread manager in Manhattan punching a female employee in the face, knocking her to the ground. In the video, the two argue and he appears to grab her arm with force; she slaps at his chest, and he punches her. Police sources told The New York Post that the woman provoked the manager, causing him to throw a “defensive swing,” and that neither had been charged. Panera Bread told the Post that both employees had been fired.
In yet another violent incident this month, a man was caught on surveillance video punching a woman in a face outside a bar at night in East Providence, Rhode Island, knocking her out, during a fight involving several people. Two men were arrested. In June, an unknown assailant in Phoenix was captured on a security camera tackling a 60-year-old woman and repeatedly punching her while she walked to a convenience store at night. He remains at large.
In May, a man was caught on surveillance camera punching a 76-year-old Florida woman to the sidewalk during the day as she walked to a store to develop pictures in Daytona Beach. The woman said the man approached her and asked, “Where’s the freaking police?” Confused, the woman did not answer and the man attacked. An arrest was made days later. In Detroit in April, an unknown man was filmed by a witness punching a 17-year-old girl in the face during an argument among a group of people at a roller rink. The manager of the rink reportedly said the man did not work there. The girl’s mother called for his arrest.
In perhaps the most high-profile recent case, Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Rice was suspended for two games after being caught on camera last year dragging his then-fiancée, now wife, out of an elevator in Atlantic City. When TMZ released footage from inside the elevator, showing him punching her in the face and knocking her unconscious, he was cut from the team and suspended indefinitely from the NFL. He was charged with assault, but the charges were dismissed this past May after he completed a pretrial intervention program that reportedly included $125 in fines and anger-management counseling. The NFL has lifted the suspension against him. No team has picked him up.
In Cambodia, Sasa posted pictures of her black eye and cuts to her forehead on Facebook, while her attacker reportedly went to prison to await trial. She said she has nightmares and does not sleep well. “I hope my violent attack will raise awareness for violence against woman and children,” she said. One of her friends posted on her Facebook page, “Wish sis better soon” and “start a new life.”