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Tourists enjoy the good weather at Patong beach in southern Thailand | Photo: REUTERS/Damir SagoljTourists enjoy the good weather at Patong beach in southern Thailand | Photo: REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Thailand officials blame tourist rape victim

Source: Thin Lei-Win | TrustLaw

In July, a young Dutch woman celebrating her birthday was beaten and raped by a Thai man in Krabi, a popular seaside resort in southern Thailand, according to local media reports.

The victim was reported as telling the police she was beaten so badly she had to stop resisting so she could stay alive.

According to the Bangkok Post, “her injuries were serious and obvious enough that the doctor at first thought she had been in a motorcycle accident. But she said she had been beaten and raped, and the subsequent medical examination confirmed her story.”

Not Rape

Yet a senior Thai police officer said it could not be considered rape because the victim dined with two men, one of them the accused, and left with him afterwards.

On Saturday, The Nation newspaper reported that Tourism Minister Chumphol Silpa-Acha, also one of six deputy prime ministers, repeated those dismissive remarks, worsening a scandal that has battered the image of The Land of Smiles and dented its important tourism revenue.

“(The minister) had said earlier that the incident could not be considered rape,” the paper reported. “He quoted provincial tourism police chief, Police Major-General Loi Ingkhaphairoj, as saying: ‘The woman had dinner with the Thai suspect and a foreign man. Later, she told the foreign man to return to the hotel before heading off with the suspect.’”

The police chief’s casual dismissal of the vicious attack followed the appearance of a black-and-white music video on YouTube in which an angry, gesticulating Dutch father sang about an “evil man in Krabi” who beat and raped his daughter in July, and complained that the suspect was granted bail by the court.

“Evil man of Krabi, we’ve got to put him in jail. Evil man of Krabi, we don’t accept no bail,” goes the catchy chorus, expressing the man’s demand for justice for his daughter.

Uploaded on Oct. 23, it’s gone viral, with more than 450,000 views by Tuesday. Media reports said it had prompted tourists fearing for their safety to cancel bookings.

What’s more,  the foreign man  she had dinner with was her boyfriend, who left early as he was tired, and there was no Thai man with them, reported British journalist Andrew Drummond.

“Misunderstanding”

So what did the Thai authorities do? They said they would try to help the father understand the situation in order to "rebuild the country's image", they considered blocking the video, and released two videos of their own (only in Thai) to counter the father’s allegation that the accused was given “easy bail.”

There was a rambling eight and a half minute rebuttal by a Krabi police officer, speaking Thai and looking away from the camera, which ended when his phone rang.

According to Thai social commentator and writer Kaewmala, who helpfully translated part of the video on a blog for Asian Correspondent, the officer described a common tourist rape case this way.

“Someone doesn’t just rape (a tourist) out of the blue… The man and woman go together to have drinks at a bar until closing time, then they go off to do the thing that they do and in the morning a rape is reported to have taken place,” he said. 

A shorter second video with a voiceover talked about the father’s song showing “a misunderstanding of the Thai legal process” (translation by Bangkok Post). The police removed the original post following criticism, but it’s still available here.

Neither the police videos nor comments by the tourism minister expressed any sympathy with or promise of justice for the young woman violently beaten and raped while on holiday.

Or any explanation as to why it took almost a month after the police were granted an arrest warrant for them to apprehend the accused, a tourist guide who, media reports said, had gone into hiding for more than a month after his initial questioning.

No word either from the courts on why a man accused of rape, who had gone into hiding once, was granted bail immediately after being remanded.

A Thai journalist friend said this is typical of the attitude to rape in Thailand, adding, “N‪ever make rape report in short skirt. Change and then go to police station.”

Heartless

The Thai officials’ clumsy attempt to defend themselves and “rebuild the country’s image” has in the end not only trivialised the harrowing experience of a victim but also made them look heartless, ignorant and incompetent.

Sexual violence against all genders, in particular women and transgender people, is a problem that needs to be addressed in Thailand, Kaewmala told TrustLaw.

“The tourist rape case is just the tip of the iceberg, what's beneath the frozen waters is even more troubling,” she said. “All these reflect the problem of cultural values and attitudes that are inflexible and outdated, and don't reflect the reality in society.”

She called Thai bureaucracy “a bastion of traditionalism,” and said that in heavily male-dominated domains like the police and the military, “you can expect the most traditional, illiberal, and patriarchal values to prevail.”

But perhaps we shouldn’t despair completely. Many Thais are showing their outrage on social media, blogs and opinion columns in English language newspapers. The majority of comments on the police videos sympathise with the victim and criticise how the police handled the case.

“Judging by the comments from Thais, it seems Thais feel this case appears rather straightforward. Even authorities don't dispute that the tourist was both physically and sexually assaulted… So, in this way, Thais making comments online do feel outraged that the authorities would actually try to finesse it to be something other than rape,” Kaewmala said.

“This is how social and personal attitudes can begin to change. It's an incremental process.”