Simply saying 'sorry' for crimes is not enough
We Thais are proud of our wai culture. We pay respect to Buddha statues and senior people with the gesture, that is also used for greetings, saying goodbye as well as a way to say sorry.
In the last case, a wai can do such a great job it can enable some wrongdoers to escape punishment. But it should not be so easy.
Last week, a sexual assault case involving a young and upcoming photographer and a model became the talk of the town.
The photographer, who is only 18, was accused of propositioning and sexually assaulting the 22-year-old model during a photo shoot in a hotel room.
According to the model's brother, the alleged crime seemed premeditated as his sister was told of the change of location and theme of the shoot at the last minute.
After the alleged harassment came to light on the Facebook page of the victim's brother, the photographer immediately posted his apologies. His testimony seemed to suggest he "had done it again".
He told the media he might be bipolar and needed medical treatment, but no one really knows if there is any truth in what he said.
Once the case went viral on social media, numerous photographers shared their accounts, confirming their young colleague had committed similar acts a few times before.
In one particular case, the same photographer reportedly reached an out of court settlement with his victim.
He walked free when she forgave him, perhaps out of compassion, wishing to give him a chance to turn over a new leaf. She was wrong.
I can't help but think the photographer might be able to get away with such a nasty crime with apologies and a single wai which many culprits love to do in exchange for forgiveness, while promising not repeat their mistake. In Thailand, such a gesture will always do the trick.
The sight of a remorseful culprit performing a wai to gain forgiveness is more than familiar in this country. Just look in the newspaper.
In a local news report weeks ago, a woman who was sexually assaulted let the wrongdoer go after "negotiations" at a police station.
The case was closed and both went home to continue a "normal" life after a wai was performed in front of police and the media.
A wai casts a magical spell not only for men who commit sex crimes but also those involved in physical assaults and road rage cases. We read and hear about so many cases in the news.
Another example is the case of a government official in Nakhon Ratchasima who bullied a rescue worker and suddenly repented after his behaviour was reported by the media.
He performed more than a wai, offering the worker a tray full of flowers, and the rest was history. Forgive and forget.
I understand why so many people prefer out of court settlements since court procedures can be lengthy, time consuming and expensive. But I don't understand police officers who, in their attempt to reconcile, tend to encourage the injured party to "forgive".
In such cases, they will set the scene for the wrongdoer to wai the alleged victim who is supposed to show kindness and close the case.
Perhaps, such arrangements make their work easier. I also wonder if persuading victims to drop complaints helps keep crime rates in their jurisdiction low.
But the authorities should also know there are some crimes you cannot compromise on. Instead of talking the injured party into forgiving, they should do the opposite.
Providing assistance, so victims have the courage to pursue the case against wrongdoers. This is their duty.
Even if damaged parties are very kind and want to forgive, there must be some degree of punishment, with the wrongdoers serving hours of community service at the very least.
And it shouldn't be a mundane assignment like sweeping temple grounds either, but a tough real one, so they are remorseful and learn.
If any wrongdoer claims he committed a crime as a result of mental illness, it's the duty of the authorities to see they get medical treatment or attend rehab in order to prevent another crime.
A wai and an apology do not necessarily ensure that a crime will not be repeated like in the case of the young photographer.
On the contrary, we should not let these things go easily, but make sure those who commit crimes get what they deserve: due punishment.
Sirinya Wattanasukchai is a columnist, Bangkok Post.
Sirinya Wattanasukchai is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.