Thai officials’ damage control in foreign tourist rape case backfiresBy Saksith Saiyasombut & Siam Voices Nov 12, 2012 5:01PM UTC
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 (we reported).
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 in 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 Nation on 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 400,000 views and 1,300 comments, and 2,785 likes and 106 dislikes at mid-day Nov. 12.
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 5000 views and 90 comments, and 10 likes but 166 dislikes at mid-day Nov. 12. 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 am. 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 another 4:31-minute video called The Truth from Krabi, which shows many police officers in a conference room and outside and a still picture of the victim receiving flowers from a policeman. The clip explains the facts and the legal process in the case. The key message is that Thai laws are different from foreign laws. Again, the video is all in Thai with no English subtitles. The video has had over 3,500 views and 100 comments, with an even more staggering rate of dislikes: 201 dislikes to 9 likes (97%).
(UPDATE: By the morning of Nov. 14 the video was taken down by Krabi police. The night before it was taken down the video had over 50,000 by 9 p.m., nearly 300 comments mostly critical, some abusive, of Krabi police and Thai police in general, and 24 likes and 355 dislikes (93% rate of disapproval). However, the Bangkok Post has a Thai 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.
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:
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.
The Bangkok Post editorial today also slams the Krabi police:
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 chastises 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.
About the author:
Kaewmala is a writer, a blogger and an avid twitterer. She blogs at thaiwomantalks.com and is a provocateur of Thai language, culture and politics @thai_talk. Kaewmala is the author of a book that looks at the linguistic and cultural aspects of Thai sexuality called “Sex Talk”.