Sheltering from domestic violence: Women’s experiences of punitive safety and unfreedom in Cambodian safe shelters

Naomi Graham, Katherine Brickell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper explores the experiences of Cambodian domestic violence survivors who have fled their abusive partners to live in NGO-run safe shelters. Through in-depth interview research undertaken in 2016, we explore the stories of seven women whose experiences speak to tensions between having safety from violence and freedom to live as they choose. The pervasive impunity of the legal system means that Cambodian society operates as a safe space for perpetrators of domestic violence and spatially excludes survivors from it to guarantee their safety from injury and even murder. Just as violence against women has been described as a major area of ‘unfreedom’, we contend also that safe shelter provision in Cambodia, albeit essential, does not necessarily afford freedom from violence, but rather a punitive safety from it which can curtail women’s bodily integrity. Survivors are too often being excluded from decision-making processes in the shelter and treated as passive recipients of physical safety. Making the argument that safety and freedom are not coterminous, we contribute to recent feminist scholarship in geography and aligned disciplines focused on the significance and workings of safe space for marginalised groups. As such, the paper complicates singular viewpoints of safe spaces as enabling environments which can challenge oppressive forces both inside and outside of them.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-127
Number of pages17
JournalGender, Place and Culture
Issue number1
Early online date23 May 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 May 2019

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