Tackling domestic violence
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Tackling domestic violence

Empowering women to get out of abusive relationships is key to preventing serious crimes before it's too late

Tackling domestic violence
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A 20-year-old female influencer, Gigi, and her air force cadet boyfriend Ikkyu were recently found dead in her condominium. A pistol, belonging to Ikkyu's father who is a military general, was discovered next to their bodies. Since only two individuals were present at the crime scene, police believe that Gigi's 19-year-old boyfriend may have shot her and then taken his own life.

Gigi's case is not an isolated incident since many women are involved in abusive relationships and domestic violence which frequently makes headlines. The Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation (WMP) monitored and collected data on domestic violence cases from 11 electronic newspapers in 2021.

The WMP stated that 372 incidents were reported, with the most common being murder. Of these cases, 63.4% cases were husbands killing their wives, while 22.2% involved husbands killing other parties related to their situation.

The second most common incident was murder in boyfriend-girlfriend relationships. In these cases, 65.9% involved boyfriends killing their girlfriends, while 24.4% involved boyfriends killing others associated with their situation. The main causes of domestic violence were jealousy (60%) and the inability to mend the relationship (14.7%). The means used in these murders were knives (43%), other sharp weapons (34.2%) and fatal physical attacks (8.8%).

The Protection of Domestic Violence Victims Act in 2007 defines domestic violence as any act that aims to cause harm to the body, mind or health, or use of unlawful control or abuse of power, forcing or compelling a person within the family to perform or refrain from performing any act without consent, excluding acts committed through negligence.

"Person in the family" refers to spouse, former spouse, individuals who live or have lived together as husband and wife without marriage registration, children, adopted children, and any person who relies on and resides in the same household.

In addition to the Domestic Violence Act 2007, Thailand is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) since 1985. Naiyana Supapung, director of the Teeranat Foundation, explained that the CEDAW is an international treaty which focuses on the protection of individuals who are subjected to violence. However, law enforcement in Thailand does not prioritise the well-being of the victims but rather focuses on reconciliation between abusers and victims.

"In developed countries, if victims do not feel safe in their homes, the authorities will immediately remove abusers from the premises and enforce restraining orders. Conversely, in Thailand, authorities attempt to mediate, encouraging the abuser and the victim to continue living together. Many people including authorities believe that a successful family should consist of a father, a mother and children. When a victim reports domestic violence, expecting Thai police to provide protection is an unrealistic expectation and it is unlikely to happen," said Naiyana.

Since women cannot rely on authorities for help, they should take note of abusive tendencies in their partner's behaviour. Dr Natsasisom Aroonrattanapong, an adult psychiatrist at Manarom Hospital, advises people to be cautious of relationships that develop quickly with intense bonding.

Dr Natsasisom Aroonrattanapong, a psychiatrist at Manarom Hospital. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)

"Abusers seek to control their partners. At first, they try to create a good impression to capture the woman's attention. As the woman becomes more committed, the abuser starts making additional demands, such as isolating her from friends and demanding more time together. In a healthy relationship, each partner has their own personal time and also shares some of it with each other," said Dr Natsasisom.

"However, there is no boundary in an abusive relationship. Having boundaries demonstrates respect for their partners' privacy. For example, partners should not intrude on each other's mobile phones, dressing styles or personal belongings as well as personal spending, as long as it does not cause trouble for the other partner. People should not control their partners' friendships. They should be trusting when their partners inform them about meeting friends."

Although many victims suffer because of abusive relationships, they stay in those relationships. Some leave, but end up returning to their abuser repeatedly. Why do they stay in the abusive relationship?

Naiyana Supapung, director of the Teeranat Foundation. (Photo courtesy of Naiyana Supapung)

Naiyana brought up a famous case of Dr Nithiwadee Phucharoenyos, a dermatologist who was abused by her late husband and Olympic shooter Jakkrit Panichpatikum. Nithiwadee filed a report of physical abuse with the police and intended to divorce her husband. However, Jakkrit asked a state agency to negotiate with Dr Nithiwadee, requesting she not press charges of physical abuse and return to him. The case demonstrated that some victims want to leave, but authorities pressure them to stay.

Both Naiyana and Dr Natsasisom agree there is a myth prevalent in Thai society where many people believe that husbands hitting wives is normal and acceptable.

"Many Thai women are not aware that they have the right to protect their bodies and lives. These women believe that after marriage, their husbands can do whatever they want to them. Their husbands get drunk and repeatedly hurt them. Some women do not have jobs and income or people to rely on, so they cannot leave and are subject to threats and harm from their husbands. Some women have children and feel responsible as mothers which prevents them from leaving. Some women hope to experience a honeymoon period again. All these keep them in the cycle of abuse," explained Dr Natsasisom.

Naiyana and Dr Natsasisom advise women who want to leave the cycle of abuse to find a confidant. Naiyana suggested that this person should understand and empower them, rather than push them back into the cycle of abuse. Dr Natsasisom advises that there should be more than one confidant because this task can be burdensome. These people can be family members, relatives or friends and they should not judge the victims, but instead help them to find a safe space to stay.

"If women want to leave an abusive relationship, they should consider if they can support themselves financially. They can seek help from NGOs such as the Friend of Women Foundation, Foundation for Women and The Emergency Home, or if they can afford it, they can consult with psychiatrists, psychologists or social welfare workers at state or private hospitals. These individuals and organisations can provide them with guidelines and options," said Naiyana.

It is difficult for victims to break away from the cycle of abuse since they have been disempowered for a long time, but life is short and victims should take the opportunity to restart their life.

"There are many myths in Thai society concerning domestic violence and these myths are passed on to future generations. Grandparents want their children and grandchildren to have the perfect family as the previous generations did. However, when people make wrong decisions, they can change or start afresh. They do not have to spend the rest of their lives with their bad choices," said Naiyana.

"Even patience has its limits. Everyone deserves happiness," said Dr Natsasisom.

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