No one asks to be raped

No one asks to be raped

In a country where the heinous crime of rape happens every 15 minutes, Durex Thailand did a very reprehensible thing this week. It posted an online advertisement encouraging their condom customers to rape.

On its Facebook Page, text on a burning red background screamed at online users: "28% of women who resist finally consent."

The ad immediately triggered public outrage. It was attacked as offensive, low, tasteless, sexist and crass. Caught off guard by the storm of angry criticism, the company quickly deleted the ad, attributing the uproar to a "misunderstanding". More uproar erupted.

It took a while before the company finally got it and posted an apology for the "inappropriate and offensive post" and emphasised its opposition to non-consensual sex.

The one-rape-every-15-minutes statistic is an official figure. According to the Public Health Ministry, there were 31,866 rape cases last year. That was 87 cases per day on average, or one victim every 15 minutes. But official figures are usually far lower than the reality.

Few victims dare report rape for fear of social stigma. They are also put off by the prospect of being "repeatedly raped" by judicial procedures that are insensitive to their pain and trauma. Statistics show most rapists are people the victims know or even trust. They include relatives, teachers, neighbours, friends and monks.

The value system that divides women into "good" and "bad" further punishes rape victims by blaming them for "asking for it" by drinking or dressing revealingly like "bad" girls. Many even think the victims deserve it.

Despite the severity of the problem, rape remains a non-issue due to deep-rooted cultural values that glorify male sexual aggressiveness and see women as passive sex objects.

If anything, Durex Thailand's rape ad reflects how the crime of rape is still dismissed in mainstream society. It actually reflects the rape culture that condones sexual violence. And if the company deserves condemnation, so do our other cultural, political, and judicial institutions that perpetuate the patriarchal values that view women as men's property.

Durex Thailand's offensive message is not the only incident that reflects our country's view on rape as a non-issue. In the wake of the horrific beach murder of two British tourists, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha made a remark that stirred criticism worldwide, but caused not even a whimper inside the country.

During a policy briefing with high-ranking officials, Gen Prayut raised the issue of tourist safety. He reportedly said: "They think our country is beautiful and safe, and do whatever they want to do, walking around in bikinis. Do they think they will be safe in bikinis, except if they aren't beautiful?"

The international media took him to task for blaming and being insensitive to the victim. His comment — a common rape joke in many circles — was unacceptable by international standards and particularly unwelcome after the brutal murder of a young British woman in which rape has not yet been discounted. Still, no local media made a fuss. No women's groups raised a cry.

Despite the general's apology following the international outcry yesterday, the damage was done.

Yesterday, the media and the entertainment industry was also taken to task by rights groups at a conference on how the portrayal of women by the soap opera industry perpetuates sexism and the culture of rape. Actually, Durex Thailand's fight-first-consent-later message echoes a familiar theme in Thai soap operas.

When society lacks moral outrage against sexual violence, there is little chance to fight rape culture or protect the victims. Both Durex Thailand's offensive message and Gen Prayut's controversial remark give us little hope for change.

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