Opinion: Is nowhere safe? Latest police harassment is brazen new low

As reports surfaced of a police officer openly harassing a female journalist who came to the station for a standard procedure, we have to ask ourselves: Is nowhere safe for women in Thailand? And, perhaps more urgently: Why is there not more shame about this?

A police station should be a sanctuary for all citizens. But one woman found the opposite to be true when she went to a police station last week only to have the officer harass her verbally and ask for a bribe.

The police are not even denying that the Police Senior Sergeant Major Kriengkamon Rakkit asked “are you wearing any underwear” when the woman went to the Phasi Charoen Police Station on 15 September simply to ask for a document to register a new phone number.

But the only punishment he is facing right now is a temporary reassignment as a radio dispatcher. He “will” face further disciplinary and criminal investigation for misconduct, police confirmed Sunday, without further details.

The officer also asked her to follow him up to his private office on the third floor and for some “water and coffee money” for officers at the station.

The incident went viral when a friend of the woman posted the story on social media.

As he was caught on video, at the very least he should be charged with violation of Section 397 of the Criminal Code, which loosely covers sexual harassment.

But we all know what is going to happen in a male-dominated society where many people do not even know about the concept of sexual harassment and what it can lead to.

He will at most be reprimanded during the disciplinary proceedings and will probably be back at work on the same desk in no time.

The woman said she could not believe that such harassment would occur inside a police station which is supposed to be a safe space and asked that the police officer “not do it again.”   

This is unacceptable. If anything, he should be barred from public-facing roles at the police station.

No one even mentioned the extortion of the “water and coffee money” bribe because that is normal here, when it should not be a norm in the supposedly modern society we are living in.

The case also highlights the need for Thai women to speak up against sexual abuse, assault and harassment at home, at work, in public or anywhere.

In this case, the incident was exposed through social media even though the victim was a reporter. And if this happened to a professional with some voice in society, it says something about what must happen to those more vulnerable.

This goes to show that society needs to encourage and provide more space and opportunity for women to speak up against the harassment that they are facing every day, no matter how small.

Public awareness and outrage are needed to let possible preparators know that this is no longer acceptable.

Specific laws should be drafted for sexual harassment with a harsher punishment than the current maximum of a fine of no more than a thousand baht or up to one month jail time under Section 397.

One in five Thai people has experienced sexual harassment before, according to a 2019 YouGov Omnibus survey of 1,107 people. Men are also almost equally likely as women to experience it, the research shows.

Sexual assault was the most common form of harassment (44 per cent) followed by verbal abuse (42 per cent), flashing (35 per cent) and persistent and unwanted invitations of a sexual nature (27 per cent).

The main reasons people chose not to report sexual harassment were embarrassment (46 per cent), feeling no one will do anything about it (27 per cent), fear of repercussions (25 per cent), and cultural/societal pressure (25 per cent).

All these motivations show a major lack of awareness of the sexual harassment problem in this society that we can all work together to improve.

If you see it, point it out. If it happens to you, speak up. It is the culprits that are supposed to be ashamed, not the victims.

The current government in 2020 announced a walk-in centre in Bangkok where the general public could report cases of sexual violence. That is still not enough as this latest case has shown.

“The prime minister has stressed that disciplinary action will be taken (against wrongdoers) and that those who file complaints are protected,” Social Development and Human Security Minister Juti Krairerk told Reuters in April 2020.

This government should be held accountable for the lack of progress on this front, as on many others.

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