When education supports rape culture

When education supports rape culture

Rights activists led by child protection advocate Thicha Na Nakhon, left, hold placards denouncing the gang rape of schoolgirls by teachers and alumni in Mukdahan province. Varuth Hirunyatheb
Rights activists led by child protection advocate Thicha Na Nakhon, left, hold placards denouncing the gang rape of schoolgirls by teachers and alumni in Mukdahan province. Varuth Hirunyatheb

School rapes in Thailand happen so frequently they no longer shock. But not this one. Not when underage schoolgirls were repeatedly gang-raped by their teachers. Not when other teachers callously defended the rapists and paedophiles as "good teachers and family men", dismissing the heinous crime as consensual sex and blaming the victims as "bad girls".

Here are some of their posts on social media: "People make mistakes. As their friends in the same teaching profession, we want to ask those who call them rapists if they know the girls were willing partners.

"These teachers are just men. They have sexual desires. If you are afraid of rape, teach your children at home. Don't send your kids to school.

"They have families too. If they are in jail, who is going to take care of their families?"

"Rape? So what? Turning against people who teach you makes you an ingrate."

The public is furious, and rightly so. They are not only appalled by the horrific crime but are also enraged by those teachers' corrupt logic, ignorance of the law and failure to know right from wrong.

It simply reconfirms public belief that nepotism comes first in the school system. Not the teachers' self-proclaimed professional ethics nor basic morality.

Such systematic nepotism fosters a culture of impunity. School rapes occur routinely and rapist teachers are rarely punished. Had it not been for the fierce public anger on social media this time, these men might have been spared by the school's nepotism again.

The social media outrage has forced the slumbering mandarins at the Office of the Basic Education Commission to temporarily dismiss the rapists/paedophiles during the investigation. They promised to investigate the teachers who supported the rapes, but pointed out that such a stance does not require disciplinary action.

What? Supporting rape does not violate professional ethics?

Is this mentality why sexual violence is so rife in the education system? Should we trust these people to be in charge of our children's education?

The horrific gang-rapes occurred at a public school in Mukdahan province. According to the police investigation, the gang rapes by five teachers and two former students took place repeatedly on school premises. The two victims, aged 14 and 16, were reportedly threatened to comply and keep their mouths shut or be failed in their exams and have video clips of the attacks posted online. Some rapists also gave money to the victims after raping them.

These men were sexually exploiting their students and treated the school as a brothel, yet their superiors and colleagues thought nothing was wrong with it. The crime went on for over a year. It is not possible that nobody knew about it until the matter came formally to light when a victim's grandmother found out and reported it to the police.

Nepotism made other teachers, possibly also the school director, turn the other way. Sexism and a rape culture also saw them condemn the victims as bad girls who "asked for it".

This mentality is sickening to the core. And the mandarins in Bangkok still think it is okay to let them teach our children.

This is unacceptable.

The largest chunk of our tax money goes to the Education Ministry. We pay more than 500 billion baht a year for public school teachers' decent salaries and lifetime pension security. Should we pay for teachers who believe that rape is okay?

The Mukdahan school scandal has triggered a flood of public demands for justice and to make schools safe from all forms of sexual violence.

Forgive my pessimism. I cannot see how schools can be a safe place for children when the education system is mired in authoritarianism and the schools are run like military camps.

Debunk the myth that our education system's goal is to educate and foster creativity. It's a bunch of lies. Its real mission is to instil strict, military-like obedience, indoctrinate state ideology based on ultranationalism and racism, perpetuate social hierarchy and keep women in their places. The goal is to maintain the male-dominated status quo.

Patriarchy, sexism and sexual oppression thrive to control people in this overarching authoritarianism -- particularly women. School rapes and other forms of sexual violence are mere manifestations of the authoritarian and militaristic culture that govern our schools' closed system.

Authoritarianism indoctrinates people to submit to power. Sexism silences rape victims for fear of social stigma while nepotism makes the perpetrators immune to the crime. So the rape culture continues.

It is next to impossible to make schools safe for girls when the larger society is not.

Community say in school management may usher in transparency and help improve the situation. But community participation and school decentralisation are hitting a brick wall. The top-down Education Ministry and its teachers simply won't let go of their old power.

At present, every school policy comes straight from the Education Ministry in Bangkok. Communities cannot even determine who and what to teach their children. Teachers are primarily outsiders, transferred to communities by top-down orders. With zero community say in salary scale and promotion, teachers have little regard for the locals.

Meanwhile, the national curriculum from Bangkok bypasses local diversity and history, feeds city dreams and makes local kids look down on their cultural roots. While the rote system kills critical thinking, the large gap in educational quality between rural and city schools further aggravates disparity.

Many other social malaises in the country are rooted in prejudice and discrimination. They go back to how people are taught in schools.

For starters, the ultranationalistic textbook history brainwashes generation after generation of students to believe that the country belongs only to the Thai race.

This is false. In fact, what is now Thailand has long been a crossroads of cultures and home of different ethnicities before the Thai-speaking people from southern China migrated into the peninsular.

The adverse impacts of the false superiority of "Thainess" imposed by Bangkok are manifold.

Not only are local cultural identities bulldozed, but political centralisation based on authoritarianism also enables the central Thai government to destroy the environment and sources of livelihood nationwide with no regards of their way of life.

Racist national history also turns the indigenous forest dwellers into outsiders and subjects them to violent persecution. Brainwashed by the education system to see ethnic minorities as national security threats, the public and the media support the brutality.

Meanwhile, racism against the Malay Muslims in the Deep South is behind the longstanding political oppression from the central government which spawned the separatist movement.

In the same vein, this prevalent ethnic prejudice supports the use of slave-like labour in the commercial fishing industry, earning the country notoriety worldwide.

The education system is also anti-democracy as it nurtures an authoritarian culture that makes democracy elusive. School militarism also tames young minds to submit to power and, sadly enough, embrace authoritarian values as their own. Subsequently, military dictatorship remains a mainstay in Thai politics.

The calls for education reform often focus on the need to improve the quality of education, now behind much of the world. The complaints are also often about the failure of the education system to serve the job market's demands. Those shortcomings cannot compare to its real vice -- an education that poisons young minds with patriarchy, racial superiority and dictatorship.

The rapist teachers must be brought to justice. But sexual violence won't end unless we deal with the abuse of power and sexism nurtured by the education system.

Sanitsuda Ekachai is former editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post. She writes on gender, human rights, and Thai Buddhism.

Sanitsuda Ekachai

Former editorial pages editor

Sanitsuda Ekachai is a former editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post. She writes on human rights, gender, and Thai Buddhism.

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