November 22, 2012 by Melissa Ray
Was a question posed by Andrew Drummond—British independent journalist and documentary maker—in his website Thailand’s Alternative News Site. His post was in response to the events surrounding the “Evil Man from Krabi” scandal—a story that has recently provoked debate on sex, rape and the police handling of rape cases in Thailand.
For more detailed descriptions of the story I strongly recommend reading two articles. One was penned by Kaewmala—creator of Thai Woman Talks and author of “Sex Talk: In Search of Love and Romance”—the other by Christopher G. Moore—Canadian crime writer and long-term resident in Thailand. Both provide thorough and insightful commentary on the events that I will summarize below.
In short, a 19-year-old Dutch woman was holidaying with her Western boyfriend in the Ao Nang area of Krabi during July 2012. On July 27th—her birthday—she dined with her boyfriend and their Thai tour guide, 26-year-old Chumpol Kaonung. Sometime after dinner, her boyfriend felt tired and returned to their hotel, leaving the Dutch woman to continue her celebrations with the guide, who offered to drive her back at the end of the night. The Thai man is later alleged to have raped and beaten the woman before fleeing the scene; leaving her roadside and suffering such injuries that rescue foundation workers who transported her to a local hospital first assumed she had been involved in a motorcycle accident. A doctor’s examination then provided evidence of nonconsexual sex. After the alleged incident, the tour guide absconded for several weeks before eventually handing himself in, confessing to the crime, then later retracting his confession and being released on bail.
The shocking part of this story was—unfortunately in this day and age—not the attack, but the response of Thai police and politicians to the incident—according to Thai Tourism Minister Chumpol Silapa-archa it could not be considered rape because the woman had dinner with the suspect.
The father of the Dutch woman’s furious response was to produce a music video entitled “Evil Man from Krabi”, in which he condemns the actions of the man and Krabi police. With the current number of YouTube hits in excess of 490,000—and support from Thais and foreigners alike—he has certainly succeeded in drawing international attention to the issue. Whether his efforts will be as successful in securing a conviction, however, is debatable. Rape cases are rarely cut and dry, especially when (as in 80% of cases in Thailand) the rapist is someone known to the victim. Despite the victim’s apparent injuries, the medical report, and the suspect’s initial confession, in the eyes of the Krabi police, it seems, the woman’s dining with the man—despite her boyfriend being the third dining companion—prevented the incident from qualifying as a rape case.
Last weekend, Bangkok Post columnist and Thai linguistics expert Andrew Biggs addressed some baffling notions of rape in sections of Thai society. In his article he described that rape—or “kom kuen”—is defined as a sexual attack committed by a stranger and considered a horrible, sinful act. However, enforced sex—or “bplam” (more commonly heard as “bam”, which is also the word for clinching in Muay Thai)—by someone known to the woman is not considered rape, but rather a form of forceful seduction that is, apparently, acceptable in Thai culture.
In response to the “Evil Man from Krabi” video, Krabi police released their own YouTube clip, in which a policeman disinterestedly comments on the incident, offering no sign of compassion towards the victim. They later released a second video, including a still from CCTV footage in which the Dutch woman appears to be holding hands with her assailant. However, the image is not particularly clear and provides far from conclusive evidence that there was physical contact between the two parties.
But even if the woman did hold the tour guide’s hand at that particular moment, at what point does that make it acceptable for him to rape and beat her? After a negative public reaction, the police have clearly aimed to implement a face-saving strategy and point the finger of suspicion at the victim. Perhaps they considered her attack a form of forceful seduction (or “bplam”), encouraged by her behaviour during the night of the incident?
I remember when I first moved to Thailand in 2006, my Thai language teacher at the time warning me to think carefully about whom I invited into my apartment. In Thailand, she explained, in the eyes of the law, by allowing a man into your home you are effectively consenting to sex—if rape occurred it would not be considered as so by police, who would take no action.
Of course, it would be ridiculous to assume all men are potential rapists and such an attitude would destine a person for an extremely lonely existence. However, it is useful to be informed of the law when living in a foreign country and I did appreciate my former teacher’s efforts to educate me on such issues. I later discovered she had suffered domestic abuse so perhaps her rather negative outlook was a result of first-hand experience of police apathy towards a physical attack.
I am not aiming to paint a picture of Thailand as a violent or dangerous place—far from it. Women are statistically less likely to be raped in Thailand than in countries including the UK, USA, Australia, Canada, France, Germany and South Africa, for example. The kneejerk reaction of many tourists to the “Evil Man from Krabi” scandal has been to cancel their holiday bookings, which is unwarranted. I have always felt safer at night in Thailand than in my own country, the UK. But the world has good and bad people and Thailand is no different.
It’s easy to forget about potential risk when in its relaxed atmosphere, among the smiling friendly faces. However, we should remember the law is not the same as in our home countries, and might not offer the protection we are accustomed to. So, sometimes it’s wise for women to err on the side of caution when in unfamiliar surroundings—if the law won’t protect us we need to protect ourselves.
To return to the question posed at the start of my article…..the response (albeit from a not wholly representative sample of one Thai woman and a few comments by readers) was generally in the affirmative. It does seem that platonic male and female friendships are less common among Thais than Westerners, but who knew dinner had such connotations in Thailand?!