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Mean Pich Rita took part in Miss Grand Cambodia and works as a TV host. Photo: Facebook

Cambodian beauty queen Mean Pich Rita accuses tycoon Heng Sier of attempted rape, exposing silent stigma

  • After Pich Rita’s allegations were live-streamed on Facebook last week, the case ignited a debate on social media
  • Sier, a prominent businessman, claims Pich Rita stabbed him and sought to extort money from him after they had an affair
A high-profile court case in Cambodia involving a beauty queen and a tycoon last week set social media alight, provoking a heated debate about sexual assault, power and consent.

Mean Pich Rita, a second-year university student and a former competitor in Miss Grand Cambodia, was arrested and detained on May 8, accused of stealing an iPhone belonging to Heng Sier, a prominent businessman.

Sier, 60, has also accused Pich Rita, 20, of extorting money and stabbing him during an encounter in his car on May 4. In turn, Pich Rita claimed Sier had a gun in his car and accused him of sexual assault and attempting to rape her.

Mean Pich Rita has been released on bail. Photo: Facebook

The allegations initially played out confidentially in a district police department and Phnom Penh municipal court, but captured public attention last week when former lawyer David Chanaiwa began live-streaming on Facebook the details of the case and Pich Rita’s accusations against Sier.

“What I’m trying to do [is] provide the information because I feel that this procedure is an injustice,” he said. “I believe [the authorities’ response] is unfair, because they came and picked her up from her home and detained her but the other guy [Sier], whom she accused, he is free.”

When I close my eyes, I see him touching me. He wanted to hurt me
Mean Pich Rita

The posts went viral on May 11, after Chanaiwa shared a video of Pich Rita, also known as “Yubi”, crying on her mother’s shoulder after the court remanded her in pre-trial detention.

“I am disgusted with myself,” she said in the video. “When I close my eyes, I see him touching me. He had a gun and wanted to touch me. I was very scared. He wanted to hurt me.”

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In response, Sier on Thursday released a statement claiming he had a relationship with Pich Rita before she demanded a large sum of money to end their alleged affair. He apologised to his wife and family but maintained Pich Rita attempted to injure him.

“She demanded cash, which was an extreme amount for ending a love relationship,” his letter said. “This made me unable to fulfil her desire, and I did not expect that she had a knife and would stab me shortly after.”

The court on Friday ordered Pich Rita’s release on bail and both the Women’s Affairs Ministry and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s volunteer lawyer team have committed to further investigation. Sier also publicly asked for the case to be adjourned. Local media have published photos of an injured man, purportedly Sier, lying in a hospital bed.

Cambodian businessman Heng Sier. Photo: Twitter

Pornographic images allegedly depicting Pich Rita, which she denied creating, were also circulated on social media. Authorities on Saturday arrested Sier’s daughter and son-in-law for fabricating the images.

MyTV, the entertainment company that employs Pich Rita as a TV presenter, has covered the case but Miss Grand Cambodia has made no statement. Cambodian celebrities, however, have weighed in on social media, circulating the hashtag #JusticeForYubi.

Actress and model Rachana Ravady urged her Facebook followers to protect women who allege sexual violence and assault, asking: “Why is it that every time there is a case of abuse of women, there is always some dissenting opinion, blaming the victim for coming from behind?”

Another actress, Vannak Bormey, posted a video that has attracted more than 100,000 views, addressing other women who doubt or reject claims of sexual assault.

“Since I’m one of the victims, I don’t hope that you understand our feelings, because we don’t want you to understand it,” she said. “But I hope you can use your voice as a woman to protect women.”

Socheata Hing, who works for the youth sexual health platform Dosslarb, said Cambodians have begun conversations about sexual assault and consent but those discussions are more difficult when power and money is involved.

“Women want to inspire one another to have the courage to speak up,” she said. “We still live in a conservative society that [means] victims don’t dare to speak up because they are afraid of being blamed, neglected or embarrassed.”

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Pich Rita’s accusations against Sier are the latest allegations of powerful Cambodian men mistreating women.

In response, 37 Cambodian organisations on Thursday released a letter calling for legal action against Sier, as well as property tycoon Duong Chhay, who was last year recorded berating and beating his ex-wife in their home.

The letter also called for action to be taken against former Kampong Thom police commissioner Ouk Kosal, who was last year accused by six female police officers of pressuring them to perform sexual acts.

Chhay responded to the scrutiny by joining the Buddhist monkhood, while Kosal was temporarily suspended from his position. Both claimed the allegations were unfounded.

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Another property tycoon, Sok Bun, in 2015 received a three-year prison sentence for violently assaulting a popular actress while she tried to protect her intoxicated friend from his advances. He was released after serving 10 months.

According to Bunn Rachana, executive director of women’s rights NGO Klahaan, Cambodian women who report sexual assault endure a stigma from family and the community as well as “insensitive and revictimising lines of questioning” by law enforcement and on social media.

“Only by breaking the silence can we effectively challenge the culture of impunity for sexual violence across the board,” she said.

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Bunn added that most survivors of gender-based violence struggle to pursue legal remedies. Female celebrities also face heightened pressure, she said.

“They are somehow expected to be both modest and alluring, demure and yet sexually accessible,” she said. “Much of the commentary from men online highlights this impossible set of standards – standards that no male celebrities have to contend with or even think about.

“In the age of social media, there is of course the very public vilification of women survivors of sexual violence online. We see this playing out repeatedly and it unfortunately displays what is a deeply patriarchal and victim-blaming society.

“That said, we have also been heartened to see many social media users, particularly young women, seeking to shift this narrative and to support survivors of alleged violence and harassment including Yubi.”