The reactions of Thai officials in the rape case of a young Dutch tourist in Krabi are looking like a remedy worse than the illness.
What gave Thailand a black eye in the past few weeks is the YouTube video Evil Man from Krabi made by the rape victim’s father outraged that the suspect easily got bail. The father sings:
Evil man of Krabi, we’ve got to put him into jail. Evil man of Krabi, we don’t accept no bail. They let him free, so he can do it again and again. Don’t you feel the pain you put inside my child?
The video has gone viral and is causing damage to Thai tourism industry.
It wasn’t rape because she had dinner with him.
In response to the YouTube video, Thai tourism minister and deputy prime minister made a comment that has made Thailand now look worse. If Thailand has one black eye from the Evil Man from Krabi video, the minister has managed to punch the other one. We Thais are now sporting two black eyes instead of one.
The backlash against the minister’s rape faux pas is not surprising. It’s hard to believe that he didn’t see it coming. His comment (which wasn’t direct) was reported in The Nationon November 10, 2012:
Tourism Minister Chumphol Silapa-archa had said earlier that the incident could not be considered rape. He quoted provincial tourism police chief, Pol Maj-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 foreign man referred to in the quote above would prove to be the victim’s tired boyfriend and the suspect, a tour guide, would be reportedly beating her up before forcing himself on her by the roadside and leaving her there in the middle of the night. But apparently that didn’t amount to “rape” in Mr. Chumphol’s book – which makes one wonder what would in his mind.
According to news report, the victim told police that she was beaten so badly that she had to stop resisting in order to survive. She was treated for her injuries at a Krabi hospital before she filed a police report and returned to the Netherlands.
A statement by the victim’s boyfriend details what happened in the night of the alleged rape as reported on Andrew Drummond’s blog. The account is supported in this Phuket News report in September 2012 by the Krabi city police who confirmed that at the time the complaint was made (late July) the victim had suffered deep bruising to the right side of her face and a split lip.
She was rushed to Krabi Hospital by a team of rescue foundation workers. They said that she had been in a motorbike accident. However, she was later examined by a doctor who confirmed that there were signs of rape.
Since it was posted on October 23, Evil Man from Krabi has gone viral with over 450,000 views and 1,500 comments, and over 3,000 likes and 122 dislikes as of 9:00 p.m., Nov. 13.
President of Krabi Tourism Association Mr. Ithirit Kinglek said the video has “definitely hurt” Krabi tourism industry. Many tourists have cancelled their bookings after the video emerged on YouTube and European tourists have questioned their safety in Krabi.
Frog-in-a-coconut-shell damage control
That the Thai authorities rushed into damage control is understandable. With 19 million foreign visitors last year, tourism is Thailand’s major source of income and Krabi is one of Thailand’s top destinations. However, their approach shows a sad lack of understanding of today’s world.
The permanent secretary to the Tourism and Sports Ministry Mr. Suwat Sitthilor said he wanted to “rebuild the country’s image” by helping the father of the rape victim to “understand the situation.” He believed the victim’s father is “possibly furious” due to a “misunderstanding.”
The tourism permanent secretary toys with the idea of blocking Evil Man from Krabi video, but this hasn’t happened and there has been a lot of negative feedback to the idea.
The Krabi provincial police chief Pol Maj-Gen Nanthadet Yoanual also came out to discredit the video, saying it was “not entirely true.” He refuted the victim’s father’s claim that the police gave an “easy” bail to the accused, arguing it was the court that gave the bail “over objections of provincial police.” The Krabi police then followed up with posting a video on YouTube, in response to Evil Man from Krabi.
Since it was posted on November 9, the Krabi Police Comment video (featuring a Krabi policeman speaking in Thai with no English subtitles) has received over 7,000 views and 130 comments, and 12 likes and 207 dislikes as of 9:00 p.m., Nov. 13. In terms of popularity it’s no contest, and it’s easy to see why.
The Krabi Police Comment video is 8.26 minutes of rambling by a cop who does not introduce himself and appears listless. He tries to assure whoever is intended as audience that he and his superiors and subordinates in Krabi police force are conscientious enforcers of the law – Thai law, he emphasizes.
He assures that “every case” involving foreigners is important and receives “swift action” and “good service.” He explains–twice–that rape cases involving tourists all happen after 2-3 a.m. In lieu of directly addressing the Dutch girl case, he describes a common tourist rape case like this:
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 goes on, “police have to follow the law… [We] use all legal procedures… Arresting the perpetrators is the first priority.” “It’s not that hard” to catch the bad guys who, he says, tend to be local gangsters preying on the tourists (despite the fact that it took them two months to get the alleged rapist who voluntarily turned himself in, confessed and later changed his mind, and got bail). On the issue of bail, the policeman emphatically confirms that his police force “never, never allow bail” for arrested suspects.
Towards the end of the video, the Krabi policeman stresses how “everyone” is ready and dedicated to work to make Krabi a nice place to live, a place full of friendly people. He himself thinks it’s “the best place” to visit with “few crimes” and not many undesirable bars (which police work hard to control). He appeals to Thais:
Don’t believe all the rumors. Don’t just hear but listen and think whether these rumors might damage our society. The news that goes out comes from people who benefit from tourism. It’s like inflicting a wound on yourself.
By this time his mobile phone begins to ring and he becomes more distracted. “That’s it. No more to tell… Police follow policy and the law… Thank you.” He takes out his mobile phone and looks at it. End of 8:26 minutes of Krabi Police’s self-wounding exercise.
Though the video screams PR nightmare, it is a perfect sociological material that shows the classic mentality of traditional Thai police. The policeman-talking-non-stop video is likely aimed at the Thai audience, given it’s all in Thai with no English subtitles, or it could be that the Krabi police just put out something to appear they have done something to counter the victim’s father’s video–without thinking how it would work (which is also probable). But if the intention was to appeal to Thais, the 90%+ dislikes of the video shows it has spectacularly failed.
On Nov. 10, Krabi Police posted (and later took down) another 4:31-minute video entitled The Truth from Krabi . The Thai title of the video was Krabi Police Clarify Evil Man from Krabi Video. This video showed many Krabi police officers in a conference room and on location, as well as many still pictures, including one showing the victim receiving flowers from a policeman. The clip explained the facts and the legal process in the case. The key message was that Thai laws are different from foreign laws and Thailand needs to do a better job of explaining Thai legal process to foreigners.
Again, this second video was all in Thai with no English subtitles. For some reason this video got many more views than the previous one. The number of views jumped from under 4,000 at mid-day Nov. 12 to over 50,000 by 9 p.m., Nov. 13, but with the same staggeringly high ratio of dislikes vs. likes: 355 vs. 24 (93%). (UPDATE: By morning of Nov. 14, the video was “taken down by user.” However, Terry Frederickson of the Bangkok Post made a transcript and English translation of this video here.)
A heavier blowback may be yet to come. The victim’s father who has thus far not talked to international press is said to be considering going on a major program in the Netherlands, and is seeking advice from his government.
“Cover up worse than the crime”
What the Krabi police and the Thai officials fail to grasp is the reality that Thailand ceased to be a small coconut shell long ago. A frog-in-a-coconut-shell damage control strategy no longer works because too many Thai frogs have hopped out of the coconut shells, so to speak. Many Thais no longer buy the same old, unsophisticated propaganda, as evidenced in overwhelmingly negative comments on both Krabi police videos. While a number of Thais disapprove of the Krabi police’s response, many apologize and express sympathy to the victim’s father under his video.
Save a handful of comments giving the benefit of the doubt to the Krabi police, the overwhelming majority slam the Krabi Police Comment video as nonsensical, pointless jabbering full of excuses. Many tell the police to better spend their time attending to the cases. Among the more polite and constructive comments for the video [translated from Thai]:
Nick Sookate: Apprehending the criminals will recover the image of Thai tourism more than forgetting about this case and making a clip giving excuses. Fix it where it needs to be fixed.
SpeedDeva: If this clip was made in response to Evil Man from Krabi, redo it because I want to know the development of the case. [Evil Man] being accurate or not, you should clarify. You say you have all the evidence then you should bare it all. 8:26 minutes, not helpful at all. Where’s the substance? Somebody tell me.
As for the The Truth from Krabi video, the night before it was taken down it had nearly 300 comments from both Thais and foreigners, a number of which were critical and abusive of Krabi police. Many Thais berated Krabi police and Thai police in general for incompetence, greed and corruption, and lack of professional care for victims, foreign or Thai. The same from foreigners. Many Thai as well as foreign viewers complained about the lack of English subtitles, while some Thais comment sarcastically that it was better not translated because that would be even more embarrassing for Thailand. One Thai commenter lashed out [in Thai] at the Krabi police:
ucoo83stardust: It’s not just foreigners who can’t understand. Thais can’t understand it either. All these long-winded explanations, just words but no substance. Then what? What’s the conclusion? The culprit walks free? He has been released. Wait till the story dies down and the case quietly works itself out? Everybody can see through this kind of method. Don’t think people are stupid. If he’s guilty, then make him pay for it!!! And foreigner visitors are guests of the country, we should take good care of them, so that we wouldn’t have this kind of shame. Now what? Our reputation suffers. And are you capable of paying for what you have done?
The Bangkok Post editorial also slammed the Krabi police on November 12:
Officials in Krabi are in the process of proving yet again that a cover-up is worse than the crime. They have been busy for almost a week in an attempt to cheapen a YouTube video on law enforcement in their province… It is difficult to decide whether the campaign is more tasteless or self-defeating. Either way, it must stop.
It also chastised Thai officials (none of whom has said a word of sympathy to the victim or her father) for making Thailand look “heartless.”
[The officials] have essentially tried the tired old trick of turning a rape allegation back on the victim.
Blaming the victim
Indeed, the comments by the Thai officials and the Krabi police highlight the persistent, chauvinistic attitude about sex and sexual violence. While the Krabi police video hints at what’s wrong in the Thai justice system, the policeman’s message that the foreign rape victim was “asking for it” was hard to miss.
What he didn’t spell out was that only “good girls” are really raped. Good girls don’t go out at night to have drinks with men. Girls who do and get sexually assaulted by a person known to them must have given an invitation to the alleged rapist. One of the top comments on the Krabi Police Comment video reads:
Johninthai: In Western society it is quite normal for a man and woman to have drinks together as friends and without the man thinking that he has the right to assault her because he thought ‘she liked him’!
Evidently this is not how the Krabi police see it.
Police attitudes about sexual violence, barrier to justice
Rape cases in Thailand have been on the rise in the past years, despite recent changes in rape law which expands definition of rape, from sexual intercourse between a man and a woman who is not his wife (against the latter’s will), to cover raping of people of all sexes and all types of sexual penetration. Marital rape has also been made illegal and penalties for rape and sexual abuses are severe (UN-Women & Thailand Law).
Legislative progress notwithstanding, the biggest barriers to realizing justice for victims of sexual violence in Thailand have been the police attitudes and their gender bias.
While foreign victims of sexual violence in Thailand potentially face Thai police’s arcane attitude about rape on top of stereotype of western sexual mores, Thai police’s lack of understanding about women’s rights and gender equality is a major obstacle to justice for local victims as well.
UN reports in 2007 and 2011 about domestic violence in Thailand mark police attitudes as the key obstacle. Many Thai police still see domestic violence as “family matters” and tend to discourage women from pressing charges and convince them that violence is a “normal thing” in relationships. Forget about rape of transgendered persons who are believed to “enjoy” sexual advances in all degrees from all men. As a result, many rape and domestic violence cases in Thailand are not reported because the victims don’t want to go through insensitive handling of the police.
Arcane attitude about sex and rape is not limited to Thai police but is widespread among men (often also women) in many traditional cultures, and ultra-conservatives in developed societies.
Two US politicians who made offensive remarks about rape both lost their bid in a Senate race in the recent US election. One said female bodies had a way to prevent pregnancy in the case of “legitimate rape” and the other made a remark that pregnancy resulting from rape was “something God intended.”
Thais can’t send our police and bureaucrats packing via the poll booth because they are not elected, but at least we can vent our displeasure and disapproval of their behaviors on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, and tell them loud and clear that we are no longer in the coconut shell.
UPDATE: The rape victim gave an interview to the Bangkok Post on 25 November. See here. I also gave an interview discussing about attitudes on rape and sexual violence and the justice system in Thailand to TrustLaw on November 14 here, and another to a Swedish radio Studio ETT which appeared on a program “Sexövergrepp i Thailand” on 29 November 2012.
NOTE: An earlier version of this article first appeared in SiamVoices blog on Asian Correspondent on November 12, 2012. See more comments, including one from the victim’s family, on the article there.