Wednesday, April 24, 2024
Homesocial-and-lifestyleNo room for victim blaming

No room for victim blaming

Recently, Mai*, an 18-year-old part-time male employee at a private hospital, became a victim of sexual assault. The incident occurred around 1am after a foreigner asked Mai for directions to the restroom. Mai helped the foreigner and then headed for the same restroom. Unfortunately, Mai was subjected to a non-consensual sexual act there. He told reporters that he cried for help, but nobody heard.

Mai revealed that few police officers questioned him whether the incident was consensual. In addition to the insensitive responses from the officers, it was disheartening to see that over 500 people out of 16,100 reacted to the news with laughing emojis on the Facebook page of a popular news programme. Most of those who found the news hilarious were men. Some men showed a similar attitude to the police officers. They expressed doubt as to why the incident happened so easily and questioned if the victim had really fought back.

In a male-dominated society like Thailand, most people assume that men are the stronger gender and usually the leaders. People who reacted with laughing emojis expressed a victim-blaming attitude. They believed that it was the victim’s fault that he could not fight back, so they ignored the fact that he was attacked. However, many people were furious with those inappropriate and insensitive responses and commented that people should not make fun of a serious case like this. Many comments insisted that sexual assault should not happen to anyone regardless of age and gender.

After the case was reported by several news outlets, the foreign perpetrator was arrested, but he denied the allegations. Additionally, the superintendent of the police station said that there would be an investigation of the insensitive remarks made by officers who suggested that the incident was consensual.

Mai’s case made people realise that even men can be victims and many people feel men have to be more careful. Actually, cases of male sex victims are reported in the media from time to time, but most of them are children and teenagers.

Just this month, two cases involving older monks and novices came to public attention. The first case, which occurred in Chiang Mai, involved a 48-year-old abbot who was accused of misconduct with novices aged nine to 12. In another case in Uthai Thani, a 53-year-old monk was accused of inappropriate behaviour towards a 14-year-old novice. The public expressed more concern for the younger victims due to their age, while the 18-year-old victim, as a young man, did not receive the same level of empathy.

Discussions about the 18-year-old victim on social media provided a platform for many men to share their experiences of uncomfortable situations involving both males and females.

One man described an incident where someone tried to record a video of him in the restroom. He reported the incident to the police. The police officer questioned the victim about what he was doing and why the other person was trying to film him. Another man shared an experience during Songkran when a group of people attempted to pull him out of a truck and he had to fight to escape.

Another person wrote that he was a victim of sexual harassment when he was a student and the experience was not funny at all. He felt scared because he did not know what the offender might do to him.

Three men shared that they were victims of non-consensual sexual acts and they felt terrible about those incidents. One victim wrote that people made fun of the incident and joked that he was lucky to be involved with a woman, but he was not comfortable with it.

The number of male victims is likely higher than people realise and everyone can become a target. In many cases, social expectations and stereotypes about masculinity may cause males to feel embarrassed about their vulnerability and this makes them reluctant to come forward to report incidents to authorities. As seen in the case of Mai, some people questioned the victim’s physical strength and intention to fight back.

It is crucial to recognise that victimisation can happen to anyone and it is never the victim’s fault. Society needs to change its attitude towards adult males who are victims of sexual assault and offer them the same empathy and support that is provided to female and young male counterparts. This change should extend beyond the general public and into law enforcement, ensuring that police officers are trained on how to properly question victims and handle sensitive situations.

*Not his real name

Suwitcha Chaiyong is a feature writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

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