Condemn all sexual abuse
A recent protest by a young woman in student uniform, who held up a sign which read "I am a victim of sexual harassment" and "school is not a safe place for students", triggered a public frenzy, but in different ways.
Some saw the act of the lone protester, who was among the pro-democracy activists at a rally on Saturday, as a cry for help, and offered her their sympathy. But many netizens as well as some conventional media outlets tried to dig deeper into her story. When it was found that she is no longer a school student, but now studying in a university, the netizens condemned and discredited her, calling her a liar. Many bullied her online, with the suggestion she might have initiated the harassment with certain indecent behaviour. Quite a few netizens posted pictures of her as a freelance model as if to support their "bad girl" theory.
Pareena Kraikupt, a female MP in the Palang Pracharath party, was among those who demonised the activist. The MP threatened to slap the young woman with a lawsuit, claiming that since she is no longer at school, she is not allowed to put on a school uniform. Ms Pareena alleged that the activist wanted to cause a stir and vowed to hold her accountable.
The young protester insisted her action was a symbolic protest, and that she had experienced sexual harassment while in school a few years ago. She said she had raised the matter with the school administration which failed to help her in any way.
The abuse had devastated her, the woman said, adding that she is determined to file a complaint against the teacher involved.
Thicha Nanakorn, adviser of the Foundation for Children, Youth and Family, expressed her support for the woman. From her experience, she said too many schools in Thailand are unsafe for students.
Ms Thicha was not exaggerating. There have been numerous high-profile sexual abuse cases committed by school teachers that shocked society this year.
One case was reported in Kham Muang district, Kalasin, in early August when the parents of a Grade 5 student at a state school, filed a complaint against a 57-year-old teacher, whom they said had molested their child. Education authorities ordered a disciplinary probe against the teacher who was transferred out of the area.
In another case, five female Grade-8 students lodged complaints with Ban Phai police against the director of a Khon Kaen-based school last month, accusing him of sexually assaulting them.
And then there was the case of teachers who were alleged to have gang-raped two school girls in Mukdahan.
If police or education officials have made any progress in the investigations, they have not revealed the results. This should make the public worry. There must also be cases in which victims, out of fear and embarrassment, never speak out.
Ms Thicha lashed out against school authoritarianism that she said makes the problem a permanent one in society. She was upset that the system appears to protect culprits who, in many cases get off scot-free.
Back to the woman activist, it's evident that the case has deepened political polarisation as people obsessed with the status quo refuse to open their minds and listen to her side of story.
Their behaviour gives the impression that they believe as a pro-democracy activist, she deserved the sexual harassment. This is unfortunate as sexual abuse is simply not acceptable. No matter what political views the woman holds, she must be treated with fairness.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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