Ploy says life was good when she first got married, but it soon turned into a violent hell when her husband started suspecting her of infidelity.
Violence became her routine. He beat her daily and sometimes left her locked up and starving at home. He chained her up not once, but at least eight times, even using them to strangle her.
“We would always fight. Most of the time over small things,” she said. “I used to sneak out with my kid and go to my sister’s. Then he followed and apologized, saying he wouldn’t hurt me again, but when I went back everything would be just the same.”
Ploy, who shared her story at a recent anti-domestic violence seminar, is one of countless Thai women whose own homes have become deadly places to survive. While the cycle of physical trauma was already unbearable, Ploy said her spirits were crushed when her cries for help fell on deaf ears.
“He would lock down the house. No one helped me,” she said at the Bangkok event, her voice starting to break. “Neighbors who heard me screaming only thought it was just another fight between husband and wife who would soon make up.”
Thais have been taught not to get involved in other people’s domestic business, even at its ugliest. That’s been a major obstacle to those seeking to fight the scourge of violence in the home.
The majority of women who have died from domestic violence did so because no one helped them, even when a cry was heard.
“The majority of women who have died from domestic violence did so because no one helped them, even when a cry was heard,” said Angkana Intasa of the Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation, which promotes gender equality. “It occurs from a belief that a family’s affairs are personal and should not be intruded into. It makes people think that it’s not a problem that needs solving.”
Asked if they would intervene to help victims of violence, 95 percent of respondents to a survey told the foundation they would not.
Praewdao Siwapuwadolpitak experienced that first-hand when she saw a young woman being beaten severely by her girlfriend last month in a Bangkok parking lot, an incident caught on video that went viral online.
“I saw a lot of people watching as it happened, motorcycle taxis, vendors, but nobody helped her,” she said. “I talked to my boyfriend and decided that we had to help her, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to sleep well.”
And they took action. Praewdao tried to calm the attacker down while her boyfriend watched her back.
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“She cried for help all the time. When I went in, she prostrated me at my feet,” she said. “She tried to cling to me, like she was afraid that I would leave. I had to tell her that I wasn’t going anywhere.”
They stayed with the victim until she was taken to a hospital after the girlfriend fled the scene.
The authorities are also likely to be unreliable. Ploy, who bore her husband’s frequent violence for decades, said police took no action even after she made dozens of complaints.
“When police came to the house, my husband would go talk to them outside as they wouldn’t dare come in,” she said. “He would say, ‘Why did you come here? It’s just a fight between husband and wife. We’ll be good again in no time,’ then the police just left.”
A police officer at the same event who often works on similar battery cases acknowledged the issue coming from both a legal procedure that isn’t supportive and a lack of empathy from investigators themselves.
“Many women make complaints to police several times, and they do nothing but call both sides in to mediate,” Lt. Col. Preabprom Mekhiyanont said. “If the woman presses charges, the husband will know immediately, and when she goes home she will face a backlash.”
“The process of justice is very slow. … It can take years before they can go to court,” she said. “When I explain the procedure, most are very discouraged. This is not like other kinds of assault cases that you can press charges, then go home and feel safe.”
Although a domestic violence act was passed in 2007, enforcement remains poor. Angkana, who was part of the push to enact the law, expressed disappointment with the results.
“There’s almost no one pressing charges under this law, because women usually get talked into compromise instead,” she said. “Many police don’t even know this law exists, and some clauses in the law are not very applicable to real situations.”
The law, passed after nearly a decade-long battle, aims to protect victims by expediting the legal process and supplying them with proper specialized care. Offenders face statutory penalties of up to six months in jail and fine of 6,000 baht.
Police are compelled to investigate any complaints made under the act and make any arrests within 48 hours. But prosecution is far from certain as opportunities remain for reaching private settlements outside of the system, an outcome the police themselves often push for.
The law is set due for an update after the interim cabinet last year said “obstacles” in its enforcement needed to be fixed. A draft is expected soon.
On Aug. 27, Angkana led a group of anti-domestic violence activists to petition the Government House to urgently address the issue by reforming both the legal and education systems regarding women rights.
In a prior interview, she emphasized the importance of changing perceptions about domestic violence.
“There are a lot of victims who want to take legal action, but the system is not supportive at all. The failure is in the system and with people’s attitudes that this is not something they should get involved in,” she said. “We can’t fix this by just campaigning. We have to change the mindset. If society is more understanding, it will help solve the problem to a certain extent.”