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Does death penalty just scratch the surface of the problem? Are there any other factors – mixed messages in media, including social glorification of prevalent rape scenes in prime-time soap operas, and sex taboos in sex education -- being overlooked? 

The recent sad news about a 13-year-old girl being raped and killed on an overnight train heading for Bangkok has sparked widespread criticism and public anger.  This has led to various campaigns for tougher penalty for rapists. One campaign is spearheaded by former Miss Thailand and actress, calling for capital punishment.  

Rape cases are nothing new but have never been seriously solved.

Speakers-from left, Atukkit Sawangsuk, Sirinya Wattanasukchai, Areewan Jatuthong, Thatsanavanh Banchong

To critically debate on contributing factors for rape, a round-table talk on “Rape: Drama, Reality & Tragedy”, was co-organized by Media Inside Out and Heinrich BÖll Stiftung Southeast Asia on July 18, 2014. The four panelists included assistant news editor of the Bangkok Post Sirinya Wattanasukchai; women’s rights advocate and law expert  Areewan Jatuthong, “Divas Inter” TV program co-host of Voice TV Thatsanavanh Banchong, and well-known columnist and social critic Atukkit Sawangsuk. The discussion was moderated by Pennapa Hongthong, contributing editor at Media Inside Out.

“The most recent rape case of a girl triggered more public frustration and anger than previous cases not only because it happened to a young girl but at the public place that was supposed to be safe and also by a public staff who was supposed to take good care of passengers,” Sirinya Wattanasukchai observed.

“Many people feel there is no safety no matter where they go. On top of that, the governor of the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) gave an interview denying that the rapist was not the train staff.  All of these have made the case the talk of the town.  Many people have demanded death penalty while in fact there is death penalty for rape and murder case.  A majority of people think that death penalty is the best solution.  Only a few talk about safety on public transportations and responsibility of the SRT governor.  Only a few touch on inequality in bringing up boys and girls.

Thatsanavanh Banchong cited a heart-wrenching statistics revealed by the Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation that the number of reports of rape and violence against women and children in Thailand in 2013 was 31,866, or 15 cases a minute!  And, this does not include unreported cases. 

“Rape culture has been deeply rooted in Thai society. A majority of Thais has no reactions when viewing rape scenes and sexually violence on soap operas and advertisements. They think they are just soap operas and advertisements,” commented the French-Lao TV host.    

“It seems that people are indifferent when there are prevalence of rape scenes on prime-time soaps and ads but they are quick to blame it all on the rapists when rape crimes arise,” noted moderator Pennapa Hongthong.

“The rapist is undeniably wrong. But to tackle the root cause of the problem, we need to look beyond each particular case,” Thatsanavanh reminded us, “We should also take into consideration the whole social structure, socialization, child-raring practices, as well as shortcomings of legal processes.”

Thai actress and Former Miss Thailand Panadda Wongphudee posted a message on Instagram urging people to back her campaign to change the law under the slogan, "Rape, will be executed."

Ironically, sexy images of the former Miss Thailand and actress Panadda Wongphodee, who led the campaign is criticized by many to indirectly encourage sex crimes. A well-known cartoonist Chai Rachawat posted on his facebook, saying he supported the former Miss Thailand campaigning for the capital punishment but he also asked if rapists confess that they were aroused by sexy images of actresses, whether she would agree with his campaign calling for punishment on those actresses.

On the issue of the right to dress as one wishes, Panadda argued on a Mathichon Online News report, “Even if I undress in front of you, you have no right to rape me.”

Another sexy Iraqi-Thai model and actress Praya Lundberg also posted a message on her Instagram supporting tougher penalties to protect women from sexual violence.

Iraqi-Thai model and actress Praya Lundberg posted a message on Instagram supporting tougher penalties to protect women from sexual violence.

Far left -Praya Lundberg, far right Panadda don revealing outfits at social functions; centre-sexy images of Praya and Panadda  posing for magazines.

Of course, each people has his and her own right to dress as one wishes, said Areewan Jatuthong, who is a former Miss Thailand runner-up, but on the ground that the right does not trespass other’s rights. “There is a 500 Baht fine for a public obscene act. It is a small penalty because the law drafter may think the act may not affect the society widely. For actresses showing off their bodies in revealing outfits, they are not against the law as long as they do not reveal nipples or genitals.”   

Atukkit Sawangsuk, who wrote the “Scene of Nudity” column in Post Today for many years, said that it is normal for men to look at porn.  “However, it depends on the right time and place. I think it is unacceptable for an actress wearing a body-revealing dress to a funeral. I appreciate it when Bruce Willis’ daughter tweeted topless pictures while walking on a New York street to protest instagram ban that put limitations on nudity, saying “legal in NYC but not on instagram”.!

On rape cases, Atukkit viewed that the rapists have metal disorders but we also need to question on how strictly our society teach us to respect other’s right.   He commented, “Thai society is male-dominated and violent-oriented. Feeling shy, most of female victims refuse to report to the police and this has spoiled crime committers.  Moreover, unequal access to legal justice is among factors that have heightened public anger, which led to the public demand for toughest law.   I think Thai society’s attitude towards sex as taboo is another crucial factor for rape and sexual violence.”

“We have hardly talked to children about how to manage sexual feelings?” noted Pennapa.

“Yes, we do. It is among a question in the O-NET (Ordinary National Education Test), and the “right” answer is to vent it on soccer,” said Atukkit.

“Thai society has always avoided talking about sex directly while in fact we need to inform children that sex is beautiful, and not something rude. It is very ironic that while natural love scenes from quality movies are censored, violent porn videos are available everywhere.”

Good sex education can help lessen sexual violence, Thatsanavanh said. “In sex education classes in western countries, apart from physical education or anatomy, discussion topics include differences between sex with and without consent, nudity, porn videos, and changing attitude on women as sex objects. If teenagers see violent porn videos and think that kind of behaviour is normal or acceptable, they may copy such violent behaviours.”    

So far many organizations have tried to raise awareness on right sex education such as teaching about the use of condoms, Areewan pointed out. “But most of the times the involved authorities criticized that this was a way to show the way for the villain.

This is in spite of the fact that Thailand is among the world’s top five countries with the highest rate of teen pregnancy. Is our society pretentious?” 

Let’s look at the facts about rape, Areewan added.  “The ages of female victims ranges from a few months to 80 plus, and most of the rapists accepted that they looked at porn video, got drunk and could not afford sexual services.  We really need to tackle the problem holistically, the whole social structure, family, education and media.”

An ironic fact raised among the panellists was the fact that prevalent sexual violent and rape scenes on soap operas , probably played by actors and actresses who campaigned for death penalty, have more or less influenced on gender-based attitudes. 

A sexual violence scene between leading actor and actress in a popular prime time soap opera which led to rape scenes much-awaited by viewers nationwide.

Thatsanavanh, who was raised up in other countries, said her Thai language has improved thanks to Thai soaps. “I was quite shocked to learn that Thai soaps usually contain rape scenes.  Thais call it “wrestle”, not “rape”. Repeated distribution of rape scenes to mass consumers seem to be acceptable in Thai society and this I believe is one influence for rape. I believe in consumer power and we need to boycott glorification of rape scenes in TV dramas which mostly led to “happy endings” of the leading actors and actresses.”

“It is interesting to note that actors “wrestle” with actresses while villains “rape”, Sirinya pointed out.  “I remembered a soap opera about a girl who falls in love with a man who is a nephew of the leading actor played by Chatchai Plengpanich and it was very annoying to see the leading actor raped the girl and they could live together happily ever after.” 

Although there were debates and attempts to solve this kind of plots in TV dramas but producers claimed big consumer demands, said Areewan.  “I once had a chance to attend a meeting with media.  I asked producers whether they know that such kind of scenes have influenced on consumers. They said yes but claimed that they respond to consumer need due to high ratings and as long as they get high ratings they still continue doing it. So far, no leading actors have been charged at the end.  This apparently reflects social values on sexual violent.  And it is a vicious cycle.”

Thai media are heavily influenced by marketing and advertisements, added Sirinya. “Many products have never been boycotted even when consumers know the factories released untreated waste water. Another point is that most people think soaps are just soaps and they watch to while away the time.”

However, Thatsanavanh insisted on power of consumers.  “Consumers need to stand up and act against such scenes and they can do so in many ways,” she suggested and added that Korean series is an example of quality soaps as they have Ministry of Culture to guard against sexual violent content and this has affected people’s mindset to be sensitive to violence.

Still, there is a strange and sick symptom in Thai society, added Areewan. “In spite of consumer powers, including those from NBTC (Office of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission), parent groups, and family network groups criticising some sexually violent content, those soaps become more popular instead of being boycotted.”

Rape Crimes: Who’s to Blame?