Rape culture costs Thailand oh so dearly
The nearly 100 billion baht of taxpayers' money to finance the first-car buyer scheme would have been better used to improve public transportation. Indeed, who could argue with that? But as a mother with a daughter living in a society marked by a rape culture, I totally understand why many parents feel they cannot let this first-car scheme pass them by.
No, these parents aren't buying a car to get themselves another status symbol, nor to pamper their kids. It's for their daughters' safety and their own peace of mind when their daughters travel at night. As simple as that.
My single, female colleagues normally don't understand this kind of fear and they like to make jokes about me being too protective by driving my teenage girl places instead of allowing her to "experience some freedom". Of course, they have a car to ensure their own safety at nighttime.
I don't have any statistics to back me up. But I'm sure many of these first-car buyers are parents who are only concerned about their daughters' safety. Also, working women who no longer want to feel their safety is at risk every time they take a taxi or motorcycle taxi at night because their homes are far from the city centre, and deep in sois that often snake through abandoned fields.
Yes, they know their cars will worsen the already terrible traffic, increase air pollution and aggravate global warming. But it's really difficult to be "green" when we live in a dark, imperfect world where the mass transportation system is in a shambles and when your country has one of the world's highest crime rates.
Shouldn't women worry about their safety when, according to police statistics, the reported crimes of sexual assault and rape number nearly four times higher than murder and robbery?
Why do I say we live in a rape culture? It's because when women are sexually attacked, they get blamed for "asking for it", for being in the wrong place at the wrong time when they should have stayed home as "good girls" do. Their dresses and life history are scrutinised to judge their characters to see if they are "good" or "bad" girls. If they have the courage to fight the social stigma as "tainted women", and "broken goods" to seek justice, they first get grilled by rude questioning in public by the police, then by lawyers in court who often resort to digging into the victims' life stories to show they are morally loose women capable of blackmailing their clients. This is what the victims painfully describe as "repeat rapes".
In addition, the burden is also on the rape victims to prove that it's not consensual sex. Often, when they don't have severe injuries to show, the criminals get the benefit of the doubt. When the court cases take forever, most victims simply think it's simply not worth it to seek justice, and then go on to live with their traumas that often last a lifetime.
True, the crime of rape mostly happens between people who know each other, not with strangers. But this very fact makes it even more difficult for the victims to make their cases in court. Except when minors are involved, it's an uphill task to prove rape when the defendant insists the sex was consensual, especially with date rapes.
I'm not defending the first-car buyers scheme. On the contrary, I'm angry about it. Not only with the government, but also with our society for its apathy towards sexual violence against women.
Rape is not about sex. It's about patriarchy which allows the perpetrators to express power through sexual violence _ and get away with it most of the time. It's about a complex layers of inequality which makes rape a tool for the perpetrators to assert power and vent their anger against the more powerless.
As long as inequality _ both gender and class _ remains intact, obtaining a false sense of security _ be it through a car, a high fence or a CCTV camera _ is better than nothing. It's costly for us individuals. It's a waste of taxpayers' money for the country. But it's the price we have to pay when we refuse to fix our rape culture and make society a safer place for women.
Sanitsuda Ekachai is Editorial Pages Editor, Bangkok Post.
Former editorial pages editor
Sanitsuda Ekachai is a former editorial pages editor. She writes on human rights, gender, and Thai Buddhism.