BANGKOK — Conservative lawmakers allied to PM Prayut Chan-o-cha on Monday lashed out at a university student who publicly identified herself as the victim of sexual harassment in her high school years.
The woman, who would only identify herself as Muay, came under fire not just from the politicians, but also a pro-establishment media outlet, after she dressed up as a high schooler and held a sign saying “I was sexually assaulted by my teacher. School is not a safe space” during a pro-democracy rally on Saturday.
“It’s inappropriate to say you were sexually assaulted and wear a student uniform,” Phalang Pracharath MP Sira Jenjaka told reporters. “Now this is famous worldwide, not just in Thailand, and damages the reputation of her educational institution.”
“Do you wear seducing cosplay costumes to instigate sexual assault, or not?” he added. “Do not embarrass your parents further.”
Sira, who chairs the House committee on law and order, went on to say that he will summon Muay for questioning – and she will be punished if her allegations turned out to be lies. He did not specify how they will be proven.
Parina Kraikupt, also an MP from Phalang Pracharath Party, wrote online Sunday that she would file a criminal case against Muay Monday at Pathum Wan Police. Her crime? Dressing up as a high school student.
“When a non-student wears a student uniform to create viral content online, you must be responsible to society and consequences,” Parina wrote.
There is no law forbidding non-students from wearing school uniforms; a large number of alumni at the all-male Suan Kularb School donned their high school outfits on Monday for a much publicized reunion event.
Junta-appointed senator Somchai Sawangkarn said Sunday that Muay damaged the country’s image and had ulterior motives.
“To talk about something that happened 4 to 5 years ago, is it even true or is she wanted to make news in the protest?,” Somchai said. “If it didn’t happen, she should be punished.”
In a phone interview, Muay said a male teacher at the high school touched her breasts and body without consent inside the campus. When she brought it up to the school administrators, Muay said, she was told that “teachers touch children out of endearment.”
Muay requested that details about her real name or the name of the school not be published, but said the teacher who groped her is still teaching there. Muay said she was underage at the time.
The student also said she made an appearance at the student-led protest on Saturday because the pro-democracy movement should also tackle culture of abuse on school grounds.
“Authoritarianism has been a very long-term problem,” Muay said on the phone Monday. “If we don’t talk about it, it won’t be solved.”
‘She Should Be Ashamed’
Although most of the media outlets reported about Muay’s allegations in a sympathetic light, Manager Online – a news agency with an established right-wing streak – stood out.
Instead of discussing the accusations concerning the sexual assault of an underage individual, the website ran a story linking Muay to her parttime job as a social media influencer and a model.
“Link to the Schoolgirl Holding Up a Sexual Assault Sign by Teacher in Various Sexy Cosplay Costumes!” read the headline. The story spent little time on the student’s symbolic protest in favor of multiple photos of Muay’s modeling photos.
Manager Online is a popular news site among many in the pro-establishment camp who already oppose the pro-democracy student protests for touching on a wide range of social issues. Many readers reacted to the story by using Muay’s background as a model to cast doubt on her stories.
“She looks like she wanted to be gang-raped. What a flirting beggar,” wrote Facebook user Viriya Poompetch.
“If the student didn’t make the first move the teacher wouldn’t dare. Don’t underestimate kids these days,” wrote Nungning Tat-chai.
“If this is true, she would probably be pregnant by now. She should be ashamed. Aren’t her ancestors embarrassed that she’s outing herself like this?” wrote user Wilaiwan Sukngam.
“She’s just a pretty [promotional model] who was hired to be there, not to take off her clothes, but to bullshit,” wrote Picitawan Plum.
Muay said she’s seen the derogatory comments, and she and her supporters are currently gathering evidence to file criminal complaints against the authors who wrote them.
But she said she also saw a positive side in the controversy: some women also came forward with their own experience of sexual assaults, especially in schools, after seeing news about her.
“I want to hug you; you are so brave; you are not the guilty person,” Muay said. ““If you had an experience like me but don’t wanna talk, it’s not your fault. You don’t have to, if your heart can’t take it yet. But when you can, let’s share.”
At least one in five Thais have experienced sexual harassment, according to a UK-based survey.
However, despite some gains in protecting sexual assault victims in recent years, very few come forward to press charges due to male-dominated police force and the media, who tend to ‘blame the victim’ for the crimes.
Even the Ministry of Public Health was widely panned for releasing a public service announcement in March telling women it was their responsibility to avoid sexual assaults.