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Um Nit, a survivor of forced marriage during the Khmer Rouge's "Killing Fields" rule between and , washes dishes at a water pump at her home in Svay Rieng province, Cambodia, on Nov. Now in her 50s, Um Nit had never set eyes on the man she married until her wedding day. The women had been resting after a day of digging a pit in the sweltering heat.
The soldiers tied their hands and raped them. When they were done, they began slitting the women's throats. Savoen was the last to be taken. I don't know why they didn't kill me. For more than three decades, she never spoke of that evening in Cambodia's western Pursat province. The shame was too great, said Sovoen, one of two daughters in a farming family of nine from Svay Rieng who was forced into manual work when the Khmer Rouge came to power.
The horrors of the Khmer Rouge's "Killing Fields" rule between and are well documented - how Cambodia was turned into a virtual slave labor camp in which as many as 2. But the narrative of the genocide has long kept a dark secret: Supported by testimony of rape survivors at recent public hearings, the revelation debunks the well-worn idea that for all its murderous brutality, sexual violence was not a feature of the Khmer Rouge reign of terror.
Rights activists blame the myth on the regime's loudly trumpeted proscriptions against abusing women - and its policy, known as Code No. Because the code's condemnation of "immoral offences" included rape, they say it perversely allowed sexual violence to flourish. That's because victims wouldn't report perpetrators out of fear of being shot themselves. In a climate of terror and extreme violence, cadres could rape with impunity.
The myth has persisted across the decades. A judge at Cambodia's U. Not so, say activists at human rights organizations like the Cambodian Defenders Project, which arranges annual public hearings in Phnom Penh to let rape survivors tell their stories.