Phangnga gang rape case rattles nation

Phangnga gang rape case rattles nation

The latest sex crime charges to seize headlines see at least 40 men being accused, but while the figure shocks, it remains part of a far too normalised reality

Police inspect a shack in Ban Koh Raet village of Phangnga province, apparently where a teenage girl was raped multiple times by at least 40 men. (Photo by Achadtaya Cheunniran)
Police inspect a shack in Ban Koh Raet village of Phangnga province, apparently where a teenage girl was raped multiple times by at least 40 men. (Photo by Achadtaya Cheunniran)

The general public was shocked to learn of a horrific crime this week -- the gang rape of a 14-year-old girl in Phangnga's Takua Thung district last year. Their initial shock was perhaps only amplified when they found out that at least 40 men from the village of Ban Koh Raet in tambon Lo-yung were facing accusations of their involvement in several episodes of rape.

Not long after the news broke, some Ban Koh Raet villagers questioned if such a dreadful crime could have really taken place in the Muslim village. They were afraid that the accusations would tarnish their otherwise wholesome reputation.

Several villagers describe the community as peaceful and tight-knit. Moral and religious codes were strictly upheld here, as far as many were concerned. However, the number of tourists in the village has dropped dramatically since the news broke.

Anucha Charoenpo is news editor, Bangkok Post.

Thus far in the investigation, authorities have learned of the widespread use of kratom, a psychoactive drug, in the village. The finding promptedspeculation that the alleged rapists were under the influence of the drug while committing the crime.

It is ultimately up to the police to unearth the truth of the matter. Meanwhile, villagers should resist jumping to conclusions about the plausibility of the crime taking place just behind their backs.

Instead, they should focus on sympathising with the victim and her family, who suffer from immense pain stemming from these allegations.

Villagers should not treat the girl and her mother as if they are enemies to be shunned from the community.

News of the gang rape accusations surfaced last Sunday after the girl's distraught mother lodged a complaint with the police.

Before that, three men had already been indicted with raping the girl, but the 36-year-old mother wanted the police to extend their probe. According to her daughter, there were at least 40 men involved in a series of rapes taking place from May to October last year. The girl is 15 years old.

The mother said the police investigation proceeded too slowly. She also told police that her family had been intimidated by some of the accused rapists. They used to be friends of the family.

The mother and her daughter have since been placed in a safe home under the police's formal witness protection programme.

Early this year, after hearing her daughter's account of being raped, the mother contacted the Muslims for Peace Foundation, a NGO set up to protect the rights of Thai Muslims. She asked them for formal help in filing a lawsuit against the first three men initially indicted who were residents of her village, aged 25 to 30 years old.

According to the daughter, she was taken to the beach by three men, who drugged and raped her. Last month, they were finally arrested and indicted. Since then, they have reportedly been released on bail.

The three men apparently persuaded other men in the village to participate in the gang rape of the girl at least three separate times.

On these occasions, the girl's mother and stepfather were out at night working at a rubber plantation. On one occasion, the victim was allegedly raped by 11 men successively. On another count, she says she was raped by five to seven men.

The girl's stepfather has also been questioned in the probe, being forced to undergo medical examinations. The results of the investigation have yet to be released.

The Takua Thung gang incident is not the first case of rape to stun the nation. In 2014, Nong Kaem, a 13-year-old girl, was raped and killed on a sleeper train from Nakhon Si Thammarat to Bangkok. The murderer was furiously condemned for his act.

A building anger and sense of urgency to resolve the endemic reality of rape was already present in the Thai and foreign media at the time. The case of Nong Kaem inspired people to call for the death penalty for rapists. Several celebrities and women's groups rallied around the cause as well.

Nong Kaem, a Mathayom 2 student at Satrinonthaburi School in Nonthaburi, was strangled to death after being raped by Wanchai "Game" Saengkhaoan, an employee of the State Railway of Thailand. He was 22 years old at the time.

After murdering her, he dumped the victim's body, as well as her bloodstained bed sheet and clothing, outside the carriage window. Her body was later found in a bush by the railway in Pran Buri district of Prachuap Khiri Khan.

It was Nong Kaem's first time riding the train. She was returning from the city of Surat Thani with her two sisters and one of their boyfriends to Bangkok.

Wanchai was later sentenced to death for committing murder and rape.

His friend, Natthakon "Nueng" Chamnan, a 19-year-old train cleaner, was sentenced to jail for four years as an accomplice.

The two horrific cases are only the tip of the iceberg in the country's rape crisis. More cases of sexual assault are bound to occur, with the perpetrators more often than not ending up being friends and neighbours of the victims. Sometimes, they are even fathers or stepfathers.

A spate of rape crimes targeting women have repeatedly left Thai society in shock, prompting concern over personal safety. Late last year, the National Research Institute and the Royal Thai Police released the findings of a study on rape, which showed that a woman or child is raped in Thailand almost every 15 minutes.

According to the study, there was an average of around 30,000 rape cases per year, or 82 per day, between the years of 2009 to 2013.

A new study from the Pavena Foundation for Women and Children has further revealed that it received 656 reported rape cases in 2015. The age range of victims was anywhere between one year and eight months to 81 years old.

The foundation revealed that the majority of rapists in those cases were stepfathers, friends of the victims and neighbours.

The foundation cited several main for why rape occurs -- the social dominance of men, influence from the media such as scenes on soap operas showing male protagonists raping women, men with mental health issues who were themselves abused as children, drug use and the vulnerability of some rape victims.

To prevent more rape cases from arising in Thailand, civil society and parent networks must take care of their children. They should work tirelessly to amplify the voices of survivors so that less people become victims.

They should also spearhead campaigns against rape culture to protect women from future harm and call for justice for all, including the effective prosecution of those responsible.

Anucha Charoenpo

News Editor

Bangkok Post News Editor

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