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A mother from Cambodia could be sent to prison for an act that her attorney describes as a cultural transgression but one that under the law could be considered a sexual assault.
Authorities believe that between July 1 and Aug. 1, the 28-year-old woman performed fellatio on her 6-year-old son.
However, attorney Robert Langford said his client kissed her son’s penis once when he was 4 or 5 years old because in Cambodia, the act is a sign of love.
The crime of sexual assault with a minor under 14 years of age carries a potential sentence of 20 years to life in prison.
“If her motivation for doing this is cultural, there’s a much greater chance this could be addressed through some form of counseling. Contrast it to a pedophile who is attracted to young children,” said Carroll, a chief deputy district attorney.
“However, the notion this is noncriminal because she did this for a cultural reason is not supported by the law. The sexual assault statute doesn’t say it’s a crime to commit sexual assault unless it’s OK to do so in your own culture,” he continued.
He said sexual purpose is not an element of a sexual assault crime.
Thira Srey, office manager for the Southern California-based Cambodian Association of America, said it is acceptable for a mother or caretaker in Cambodia, especially those from rural areas, to kiss the penis of an infant or put it in her mouth as a sign of respect or love.
The child is usually 1 year old or younger, “but no more than 2 years old,” he said.
The act has nothing to do with sexual feelings, he said, noting that it can be viewed as a sign of high respect by a caretaker for a future “master.”
The act is not part of the general culture, Srey said “it’s an exception.”
“It’s not really in our culture for everybody. Not all Cambodians do that,” Srey said.
Police learned about the incident after the woman’s husband was arrested on a sexual-abuse related charge involving an underage victim who was not a family member. On July 20 after investigating the matter, police arrested the husband, who was charged with lewdness with a minor under 14.
Police then contacted Child Protective Services to interview his son.
The husband’s attorney, Cynthia Dustin, who declined to discuss the details of the ongoing case, said the charge against the husband was the product of someone who was threatening and trying to extort her client.
“My guy was confronted and threatened and almost extorted. He did what any good citizen would do and called the police,” Dustin said.
According to a police report, on Aug. 3, a CPS investigator spoke with the 6-year-old son, who said that his mother had once kissed his “peanut,” the child’s term for penis.
The boy said he was sleeping when it happened, but that he knew she had put his penis in her mouth.
The boy said he did not see her do that because he was asleep, and that it happened only once.
When the investigator interviewed the mother, she said she had done this one time when he was age 4 or 5, before saying good night to him.
She told the investigator that in Cambodia, this is how they show love and asked whether she had done anything wrong.
The family has kept to itself and has had little contact with U.S. society, Dustin said, though she did not know how long they have been here.
Dustin said she believed they were from a rural area in Cambodia.
(Posted on October 16, 2006)