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Media portrayals of rape 'often simplistic and inadequate'

The Thai media's portrayal of rape and sexual violence against women tends to be inadequate, simplistic and based on assumptions that do not address the complex root causes of such violations, a seminar in Bangkok was told yesterday.

Reports and explanations about rapes or sexual assault were usually predictable but insufficient or even misleading in saying that the problem related to evil or sexual maniacs that need to be punished severely. But most seldom touch on issues of unequal sexual relations, a sense of sexual entitlement among men and inadequacy of the justice system.

"Rapists are often depicted as a sex manic or drug addict. This is a stereotype," said Varaporn Chamsanit, programme manager at the Women's Wellbeing and Gender Justice Programme at the Sexuality Studies Association, which organised the seminar.

Varaporn said a survey of 10,000 foreign men revealed that as many as 71 per cent feel sexually entitled to violate women, and Thailand was no exception to this.

"It's about power relations that are unequal and the urge to exercise power."

Varaporn said a few companies monopolised production of Thai soap operas and these tended to be conservative and sympathetic to rapists or even romanticised rape and sexual violations on television.

'Real reasons are multi-dimensional'

Chalidaporn Songsamphan, a prominent feminist at Thammasat University, said the media dwelt on the same simplistic plot repeatedly while the reality about why sexual violations occur was multi-dimensional.

Chalidaporn said the media often had a preconceived assumption that rape must occur in secluded areas while in reality that is not always the case. The media also tended to repeat the perception that rape was about an evil individual that need to be harshly punished, thus putting the wrong emphasis on individual offenders alone and giving the wrong impression that if only these people could be dealt with then society would be ok.

Kritaya Archavanitkul, a leading feminist and an associate professor at Mahidol University's Institute for Population and Social Research, said a culture of silence keeps many cases from being reported by victims, and this was often not noted. "We must address this culture of silence," she said.

Kritiya said sexual assault was the most serious problem facing women in Thailand. Victims ranged in age from one year old while the oldest was 105, she said, adding that the longest continuous sexual violation in Thailand lasted for 17 years.

Some 32 per cent of rape victims who were killed were minors, said Kritiya, adding that sexual assault cases were still considered as low priority in the justice system.

If rapists are not armed with a gun or grenade, victims could only press a charge within the first three months of the event, she said.

"The justice system makes it like they're being raped for the second time round," said Naiyana Suphaphueng, another leading feminist and lawyer.

"I want to see a clear stance from the media that won't just sell news. It's not enough. They must play a role in becoming a mechanism to protect women. They must not repeat [sexual violations]. It's not fair to women," said Suchada Thaweesit, president of the Sexuality Studies Association.


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