The approach of Banteay Srei’s Peace Centre, which opened in April 2012, is to provide a safe space for psychosocial and law counselling for both survivors and perpetrators of domestic violence. Working closely with the police and local authorities, in the first six months of opening the shelter intervened in 38 cases of domestic violence from 32 target villages.
Since working at the Peace Centre in Siem Reap province, counsellor Pheung Phoith has provided counselling and support to 21 male perpetrators of violence. “When men come to the Peace Centre, I start by trying to build a good relationship with them and we talk about the laws on domestic violence, and then I start to question why they were violent against their wife and I try to work through and challenge the reasons,” explains Phoith. “For example if a man says he hit his wife because she refused to have sex, I explain the concept of rape and that rape can occur between a husband and wife. Most of the time they are surprised to hear this.”
Sophia and Kimhort
Sophia and Kimhort were referred to the Peace Centre in December 2012 following an incident of domestic violence. Sophia had been raped prior to marrying Kimhort in 2009 and Kimhort’s family had begun to tease and criticise him for not marrying a virgin. The torment had proven too much for Kimhort who one night whilst very drunk attacked Sophia.
Sophia and Kimhort both received counselling and legal advice at the shelter and following a period of separation, Sophia decided she wanted to stay with her husband. “I am very glad we came to the Peace Centre. Now when we are at home and we have a conflict, I try to forget the anger and work on something else. I learned this technique from the shelter. I have started to think more deeply about how to reduce my anger and alcohol consumption,” says Kimhort.
A Safe Space
The Peace Centre is housed in a traditional wooden house with plenty of space to interview women and men separately as well as provide accommodation. It is staffed by a Peace Centre co-ordinator, two counsellors and a housekeeper and has 24 -hour security. Women survivors of domestic violence generally come to the centre first, referred by GPN co-ordinators or community facilitators in their village. The female counsellor provides them with psychosocial counselling, as well as information on their rights to legal action and divorce.
The male perpetrators usually come to the centre a few days later, often of their own accord. Sometimes the men stay overnight at the centre, so that their wives may go home. “After providing support to both parties, if both sides say they still want to stay together, we provide couple counselling and help them to reconcile” explains Phoith. Phoith himself used to be the volunteer gender-based violence network co-ordinator for his village and has extensive experience of counselling men at the village level. In addition to the counselling he provides in his role at the Peace Centre, Phoith also actively conducts follow up home visits to men once they have returned to their community.
A Unique Approach
Another young couple, Piseth and Socheata came to the centre in August 2012, referred by their village GPN coordinator. Socheata was taken to a woman’s shelter and Piseth stayed in the centre for a few days to talk to the counsellor. “It helped me to talk about what happened and to help me to talk to my wife. I felt so bad and I wanted so much to be reunited with her,” says Pisith who still receives follow up support from Phoith in his home village.
“I think this approach of working with men is very important as I can help them to deal with their anger,” says counsellor Phoith. “Most domestic violence is committed by men and so this gives them space to talk about the root cause of their violence and to learn about the law.”