From Civil Society of Minnesota
ST. PAUL, Minn. (Oct. 6, 2015) — Panyia Vang is speaking out despite the controversy her decision has sparked the Hmong community in Minneapolis is close-knit, protective. It does not like to draw attention to itself.
But one young woman has broken a code of silence to accuse a member of the community of raping and impregnating her, before binding her in a traditional marriage when she was aged just fourteen. The man she accuses strenuously denies the allegations.
“I am telling the truth because the truth needs to come out,” said 22-year-old Panyia Vang.
In an unprecedented federal lawsuit, Ms Vang is seeking $450,000 from the American citizen who allegedly assaulted her after he and others travelled to Laos to obtain a traditional bride. The young woman has also agreed for her name and photograph to be used.
“My friends and family are giving me support,” she told The Independent, in a message passed via her lawyer.
The lawsuit and the controversy it has created in Minnesota has placed in the spotlight the Hmong community in the US, many of whose members migrated from Thailand, Vietnam and Laos in the aftermath of the Vietnam war. It has also highlighted the challenges faced by many migrant communities, and the interaction between groups in a secondary country and those still “at home”.
The lawsuit claims that Ms Vang was in 2006 the victim of a US citizen, 43-year-old Thiawachu Prataya, who travelled to Laos in order to obtain a traditional bride. She and her lawyer, Linda Miller, said in the civil lawsuit that at the time of the alleged crime, she was living in the Laos countryside with her family, and had teenage dreams of becoming a pop singer.
It is alleged she was lured to the capital, Vientianne, with the prospect of new clothes, an audition for a music video and to meet a local movie star. Instead, the lawsuit alleges, she was raped by Mr Prataya and forced into marriage.
“These United States citizens, much older than her, traveled to the capital of Laos and victimised the child,” says the lawsuit.
“She as raped, impregnated, and when she escaped, she was tracked down, and raped again. Her young life and innocence were crushed. She has brought this civil lawsuit under Masha’s Law, to recover damages for violations of United States laws against child sex tourism, conspiracy to support of child sex tourism, and child sex trafficking.”
Masha’s Law was passed by Congress to give victims the right to sue anyone caught with their images associated with child sex abuse. It was passed after Masha Allen – who was adopted from Russia as a child – suffered repeated sexual abuse at the hands of her adoptive father.
The conurbation of St Paul, Minneapolis and Bloomington is home to the largest community to Hmong in the US, and the state of Minnesota is second only to California. Ms Miller has spent many years working with the Hmong community and Ms Vang’s lawsuit was initially filed three years ago, when she was involved in a custody battle for the child she bore as a result of the rape.
She said she had met “lots of brave Hmong women” during that work, but that Ms Vang was “twenty times” braver.
“I don’t think a lot of people are happy,” she said of the community’s reaction. “It’s big business.”
In an opposing memorandum, Mr Prataya and his lawyer, Der Yang, claim that the sexual relations between him and Ms Vang were consensual and that the issue is not as simple as Ms Miller has claimed. They have questioned the records purporting to show Ms Vang’s age and have also said her story about being lured into the capital was concocted to placate her mother. The story was first reported by the Star Tribune newspaper.
“My client denies the allegation of rape, of human trafficking, and sex tourism,” said Ms Yang.
Ms Miller has applied for a summary judgement with a federal judge, negating the need for a trial, and hopes to obtain an answer next month.
Meanwhile, Ms Vang has vowed to keep fighting for what she considers justice.
“Some members of the Hmong community are giving me trouble,” she said. “[But] yes, I think that I will be vindicated.”