A Spanish psychologist traveled to see Cambodia's "jungle woman" Tuesday in hopes of evaluating her condition since she was recently discovered naked and unable to speak after apparently spending nearly two decades alone in the wild.
Hector Rifa, a doctor of psychology from Spain's University of Oviedo, said he wanted mainly to make sure the woman was treated properly for what appears to have been a traumatic experience.
But it is also possible he may find clues to the woman's true identity whether she is indeed a local girl who went missing in 1988, as claimed by a family in northeastern Cambodia who has taken her in as their long lost daughter.
Rifa was driving Tuesday from Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh, with hopes of completing the 13-hour journey to where she is staying in Rattanakiri province's Oyadao district.
The family of a village policeman there, Sal Lou, says they are certain the woman is Rochom P'ngieng because of a scar they can recognize on her right arm. The girl disappeared while tending water buffalo when she was 8 years old.
With no other evidence supporting the claim, however, her actual identity is a mystery to other people, who speculate that she may just be a troubled person who became lost much more recently in the jungle.
In any case, her inability to communicate and evident attempts to escape from the family that has given her shelter indicate she is in a difficult psychological situation.
"We need to make an evaluation of the situation because until now nobody was taking care" of her, woman, said Rifa, who has been working in Cambodia on health promotion for indigenous people in the province over the past four years for the Spain-based group Psychology Without Borders.
He said he thinks the woman's case may not be anything more extraordinary than that of any other person having difficulty adapting to normal life after being lost in the jungle for an extended period.
"It is not extraordinary...or anything coming from another world," he said, speaking by phone from a car taking him up to the northeast. Many superstitious villagers have expressed concern that the woman may be possessed by a jungle spirit.
"From the point of view of psychology, I suspect that this is like for us, if we have stayed one week in the forest and came back to the world, you are a little out of it. So if we have stayed 18 years out of the office or of the world, when we come back we need some time" to readjust, he said.
On Monday, two Cambodian human rights groups expressed fear that the woman may be suffering from the spotlight cast on her since she emerged from the wild, and offered to provide any necessary medical and psychiatric treatment.
Curious villagers and journalists have flocked to see the woman, who was found Jan. 13 walking like a monkey out of the jungle. She pats her stomach when hungry and uses animal-like grunts to communicate.
Rifa said the woman is not in any sense a patient yet.
"The important thing is to try help the family, if they don't know how to manage (her)," he said.
Mao San, the Oyadao district police chief, meanwhile, said Tuesday that the investigation into the woman's saga has "hit a dead end" because the woman cannot speak, reports AP.
"Only when she starts speaking can we ask her where she might have been or who she might have been with the whole time," he said, stressing the need to do DNA tests to confirm she is the child of Sal Lou.
Sal Lou has said he is willing to undergo DNA testing along with the woman "to clear any doubts that she is my child."
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