Images: Monkik and Kiranshastry / Flaticon
Sexism and dangers women face in the Thai workplace are well known, partly thanks to reporters who highlight those issues in their work. But the journalists themselves rarely tell their own stories.
This is hardly a surprise. Those working in the media, after all, are trained to “report the news, not be part of the news.” And while the West witnessed the upheaval of #MeToo era, where many women spoke up about sexual assault at the hands of those in power, no such awakening on a similar scale can be found here in Thailand.
To commemorate the double occasion of the International Women’s Day and National Journalist Day, which fall on March 8 and March 5 respectively, we asked a number of women in the Thai media to share their #MeToo predicaments – whether from their bosses, online stalkers, or even esteemed colleagues from the West.
“We report about others getting harassed, but nobody reports about us getting harrassed,” a female journalist said during an interview for this article.
Their stories are obviously a tiny fraction of what women face in the profession, but we hope their stark honesty illuminates what many others face daily.
All interviewees except one have requested their names to be altered out of concerns for privacy, their career futures, and Thailand’s draconian libel laws.
“Cutie, your skin is so white … I’ll rape you.”
April was a reporter at a certain media agency for six months before tendering her resignation; the hostile environment of creepy men and endless abuse proved to be too much for her.
April said she endured six months of verbal harassment from her cameraman, video editors, reporters, and company drivers.
One of the more graphic ones was “Cutie, your skin is so white. So cute. I’ll grab and rape you.” She said the speaker used the term bplum, a euphemism for rape, commonly associated with rape scenes in Thai soap operas.
“What’s worse is all of them feel that these are normal things to say,” she said. Oftentimes, the toxic boys’ club in the newsroom consisted of daytime drinking. “I needed to disturb their party and beg them to help me edit the news scoop, and they kept saying creepy things.”
One video editor, for example approached her on the daily basis and kept offering to send her home because he knew her home address – by somehow getting a hold of her job application.
But the last straw came on an overnight work trip in the field with a cameraman. They stayed in different rooms, but she had to retrieve video files from his room and discuss the plans for the following day. The cameraman, who had been drinking, suddenly approached her and said he liked her.
She sprinted to the door. He gave chase and tried to block her exit, and she escaped the room by a hair.
“At first I blamed myself a little,” April said. “Half of it was my carelessness. … I thought if I was more careful, I shouldn’t go inside the room.”
She didn’t tell her family, who were already against her becoming a journalist, nor did she tell any of her bosses even when quitting.
“No one could do anything, because he’s pooyai.”
May is a seasoned reporter who’s been in the field for 13 years. Part of her day-to-day includes hands reaching over to rub her fully-clothed legs and remarks like “I get so turned on by your body scent” from one of the photographers on her team.
The newsroom’s prominent anchorman would also liberally touch and caress the younger female interns and employees.
“No one could do anything, because he’s pooyai. He felt that since he was famous, all the women around him were just sexual objects,” she said.
Since there was nothing she could do, May and other young women in the office learned to earmark “creepy guys,” serial sexual harassment offenders, to be avoided. When May finally decided to tell her female boss about the harassment, it didn’t get anywhere either.
“She said, ‘don’t you dare tell anyone. No one will believe you,’” May said. “I knew that even she didn’t believe me.”
“The way these guys say it is all slimy.”
When she was getting ready to go live in a media scrum, June said random cameramen would sometimes creepily whisper in her ear how cute she was.
During her assignment to report on the Thai coronavirus evacuees from Wuhan recently, a vendor also grabbed her hand hard and wouldn’t let go unless she gave him her number.
In fact, as an on-the-go anchorwoman, April has been harrassed on the way to the news scene and in the field so many times that driving her car has become a necessity.
“When someone compliments me with, ‘oh, you look nice today,’ that’s fine. But the way these guys say it is all slimy,” June said. “What justification did they give themselves to say that?”
“This kind of body needs to be kidnapped and sold in a brothel.”
Female journalists who are in the public sphere, especially news anchors, are also often harassed by faceless trolls via social media.
One of them is Suphitchaya Chanyarat, an anchorwoman for TNN 16 news. In December 2018, she and 22 fellow female anchors filed a complaint to the police against a now-deleted Twitter account named “Horny for Anchors,” who photoshopped their on-air footage with obscene photos and captions.
“They took my photos and wrote very low-class, sexually harassing words like, ‘This kind of body needs to be kidnapped and sold in a brothel,’” Suphitchaya said.
After the anchors filed the report, the Twitter account tweeted an apology, which sharply dampened police enthusiasm to find the account. The case faded into inaction.
“Even today, I don’t know who it was,” Suphitchaya said. “Is it someone close to me, or some stalker who checks my social media a hundred times a day? This kind of thing is a real social menace for women.”
“I’ve had to stop looking at my inbox.”
Unfortunately, these instances are not rare one-offs that happen only once in a while and result in police complaints. May, one of the aforementioned anchors in this story, said she’s had to forgo checking her inbox entirely because of the amount of abuse she receives.
“It’s all disgusting, degrading words about how much they’re turned on by seeing me on air, and how much they want to see my private parts,” May said. “I’ve had to stop looking at my inbox, even though I want to connect with my fans, since 98 percent of messages are filthy.”
May had to go to a police over a dedicated online harasser who would keep making as much as 20 accounts per day to harass her after she blocked him. He would repost them with captions like, “This prostitute is only 500 baht.”
She eventually asked her channel if she could go to the police, and they allowed it after making a news story about the incident. But it was to little effect – police sent a warning to the man’s residence, but no further action was taken. It’s been three years, and he’s still harassing her.
“I’m not even a famous person, just an anchor. And I’m already getting this much harassment,” May said.
“I love you like a cat.”
Julie worked at a certain English language news agency until serial harassment from an obsessive boss forced her to quit.
Although the Thai workplace culture is known for being more informal than overseas counterparts, Julie said her boss went way over the line of a professional relationship, such as texting her at odd hours of the night with “The more I care [for] you, the more I’m hurt.”
“I couldn’t stand it,” Julie said.
Her insistence that they keep their relationship professional was repeatedly ignored. And when she brought up quitting, he replied, “I love you like a cat. If you stay, I’m happy. If you leave, I’ll miss you. I don’t think of myself as your owner. I can’t own you, my chubby cat.”
But handing in her notice didn’t stop his behavior. In fact, they escalated, from asking her to have a meal with him every year “until his death” to flooding her inbox at night with messages that chided her for leaving the company.
The boss went on to write public Facebook posts saying applications to the company should not be “sensitive” people who take offense from him too easily.
“He’s the one who coerced me to dinners but when I spoke out about it, he made himself look like the victim who just asked me out innocently,” Julie said.
By the time Julie left the company for another media firm, she said the entire workplace knew of what had passed. Yet no action was taken against the boss, as far as she knows.
“He’s in a position of power, and he’s white.”
The abusers aren’t limited to Thai supervisors and colleagues either. A terrible minority of Western journalists, who often proclaim themselves as agents of progress in a “backward” country, view Thai women as less than equal – and targets for their harassment.
Ploy said she was sexually assaulted by an American reporter from a US-based news agency after meeting him for what she thought was an after-work outing with fellow journalists. It turned out he didn’t bring anyone along.
She said she initially trusted him, because she read his prolific works that many praised for their insightful and critical perspective on the Thai establishment.
After chatting about work over a meal, the journalist offered to send her home, and then sexually assaulted her in his car by reaching for her genitals. She repeatedly told him to stop. Afterwards he told her not to tell anyone, and then dropped her off at the BTS.
“He exploited my admiration of him. He thought he had a lot of credibility. Lots of people admire his work,” Ploy said. “He’s in a position of power, and he’s white. I was a local female journalist and he used his status on me.”
“They think the rules don’t apply to them with local girls.”
Kanya’s story is chillingly similar. At 21, Kanya was a bright-eyed journalism student interning at a big-name foreign news agency. Due to her English skills, she was put on field reporting duty with a British correspondent 10 years her senior.
One night after an after-work dinner, he asked her to drive him home, and forcibly tried to kiss her while in her car.
“I told him no, but he was also a big guy,” Kanya said. “I got really mad and told him, ‘I’m going to scream.’” The man yelled “Fine!” exasperatedly and stopped.
The next day at work, she was relegated to translation work, and never got to go on another reporting trip again at that internship – a reminder of the consequences that women can face if they resist or speak out.
“He thought it would have no consequences on his reputation, which turned out to be true,” Kanya said. The British man, who already had a Thai girlfriend at the time, went on to work in two other Asian countries after the assault. He was later made a bureau chief.
“It’s like a foreign boys’ club where they come from abroad and they think the rules don’t apply to them with local girls,” Kanya said. “I don’t know if it came from entitlement, but it was certainly cocky. Or some Asian fetish.”
Is journalism worth it?
These anecdotes might make women think twice before entering journalism – an industry already fraught with relatively low pay, odd hours, demanding workloads, and an uncertain future.
Indeed, some young women who get assaulted on the job start to doubt their skills and wonder whether they are really cut for the career. But Kanya said that’s the last thing that should happen.
“It’s not you, it’s them,” she said. “The shock of the event made me doubt myself for a while, but after time passed, my desire to really learn news was still there so I went on to study it specifically and work in news.”
She added, “Luckily I’ve been fortunate enough to work in great environments after that experience.”
Suphitchaya, the TNN anchor, also said journalists with a following shouldn’t shy away from the spotlight just because of harassers. If anything, she said she enjoys being a journalist and making a difference through her career.
“Be careful, but not paranoid. Play it safe when posting online, but not so much that you don’t get to live your own life and get to know people,” she said. “Having connections and fans is a good thing.”
Others interviewed for this story suggest collecting evidence, keeping harassment logs, and confiding in a trusted authority figure in your workplace. And on an everyday level, make it clear to male colleagues that sexual harassment of any kind will not be tolerated and will not be laughed off. File a police complaint if assaulted.
You should also take a day off if your mental well-being is suffering from a harassment incident. Talk to a therapist, friend, or another female reporter you trust.
“I hope that when other women who aren’t reporters hear my voice, they will stand up too,” Suphitchaya said. “You must fight because you didn’t do anything wrong. They were the ones who were harassing us.”
Have you or someone you know been a victim of sexual violence? Seek help by contacting the government’s One Stop Crisis Center hotline at 1300 (Thai, English, Burmese, Lao, Khmer), or the Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation at 02-513-2889 (Thai, English).
This reporter can be contacted anonymously at [email protected].
Update: An earlier version of the story stated that Ploy was sexually harassed, but she revealed further details about the incident that qualifies it as sexual assault.