BANGKOK — Rape victims in Thailand and Vietnam face discrimination stemming from stereotypes and a hostile justice system, according to a UN study launched Wednesday.
Representatives from the police and Supreme Court were on hand to discuss the report, the first ever of its kind and carried out by three UN organizations led by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, aka UN Women.
The report found stereotypes and myths related to rape – including the notion that “real rape” is perpetrated by strangers using force and violence in public – despite findings that 91 percent of victims in reported cases knew their attackers. The study was also conducted in Vietnam, where that figure was 86 percent.
“The majority of cases reviewed had no documentation of physical injury, and the majority of reported sexual assaults happen in homes or hotels,” the report stated. In Thailand, 68 percent of victims had no visible signs of injury. In Vietnam, the figure was 76 percent.
That’s part of what the report describes as the “stereotypes about sexual assault,” which include how victims and survivors are expected to look and behave. Informal settlement of complaints, frequent insensitive treatment of victims and prolonged court proceedings which are often insensitive to the traumatic experiences that sexual assaults victims endure are also important factors.
The 109-page study included reviewing 290 police or court case files and interviews with 213 people, including government officials, judicial personnel, civil society activists, and provider of services to survivors.
In one case, a Thai rape victim who was not named had to visit a police station more than 10 times before her case proceeded.
Some revealing observations from Wednesday’s launch:
- Some of the quotes in the report did not specify whether sources come from Thailand or Vietnam. However, study said the two countries face similar challenges.
- A female justice official: “Rape is something that only happens to ‘low class’ people, the uneducated or migrants.”
- A male police officer: “Raping a virgin is worse than raping a non-virgin.”
- A female academic: “The police and Women’s Union do not believe rape can happen in marriage, so they try to solve these problems through reconciliation.
- A female social worker reporting a statement from a police officer handling a case of a 12-year-old rape victim: “You were raped because of the way you dressed; if not by this offender, you would have been abused by another.”
What’s more, the report highlighted the issue of “attrition,” or “the process by which cases stall out in the justice system, from filing the initial complaint and initiating investigations to decision about whether to prosecute and finally the trial stage.”
Suntariya Muanpawong, a chief judge in the research justice division at the Supreme Court, was among panelists launching the report. She said establishing a gender-justice committee on the court has been suggested over the years but never materialized.
Suntariya said UN Women might want to see her boss in order to convince them to embark upon such a project.
Another suggestion made by Suntariya was to teach gender justice at law schools and come up with laws to enable various agencies to work together.
“Our criminal justice [system] has an offender-centered approach. But for the victims, there’s nothing at all,” Suntariya said.
Also present was police Col. Danukrit Kalampakorn, who runs what is likely the biggest center to handle physical examination of rape victims at the Police Hospital’s One Stop Crisis Center.
He said last year alone saw about 800 women seeking rape-related medical exams and advice. He concurred with Suntariya that there’s no coordinating agency to handle rape cases and assist victims. He reckoned that many rape victims do not seek medical examination or go to the police at all.
Anna-Karin Jatfors, a UN Women deputy director, thanked both the governments of Thailand and Vietnam for their cooperation in making the study possible. Jatfors added that both countries could consider increasing the number of women recruited into the justice system.
As for solutions, the report recommended establishing quality essential justice services for victims that prioritize their safety, protection and support.
It also suggested that organizational cultures be transformed to create gender awareness and sensitivity.
Other recommendations included promoting specialized expertise at all stages of the criminal justice system and developing effective internal and external oversight and accountability mechanisms.