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December 18, 2013

Efforts to Turn Back Rising Rates of Violence Against Women in Thailand

by Ron Corben

In Thailand, official statistics indicate rates of domestic violence are increasing despite a 2007 law designed to protect victims. Many women remain reluctant to seek assistance because they are unaware of protections available to them.

Researchers at Thailand's Mahidol University National Institute of Child and Family Development said their annual survey indicated nearly one third of households last year reported instances of domestic violence.

One victim, Suphakorn, who only wanted to give her first name, turned to the Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation for help after she tried to break up with her boyfriend and he became violent.

Suphakorn said she was frightened when he threatened her with a gun at her office, demanding she go back home with him. She said she begged for her life as he later assaulted her at home, bashing her head against a wall and attempting to stab her.

While such stories are common, the foundation's director, Jaded Chouwilai, said many women in similar situations remained silent in the face of abuse, unaware of places they could turn for help.

"When [women] have the problem in the family - domestic violence - most women cannot talk [about it]. They have a child , they are afraid and [do] not [have] the information; most women don't have the law, the information to help them," said Jaded.

In 2007, Thailand passed the Protection of Victims of Domestic Violence Act, which provides immediate services for victims, creates protective orders and streamlines court procedures for domestic violence cases. The Health Ministry also created the emergency One Stop Crisis Centre (OSCC), where up to 23,000 cases of victims of abuse cases are being reported annually - up from 11,500 in 2005.

That outreach has helped to inform victims about support networks available to them, but researchers said addressing the root causes of the problem required changing attitudes in men.

A United Nations report on men and domestic violence across Asia, released in September, found some 25 percent of those surveyed admitted to sexual assault against a woman or girl.

The report's co-author, James Lang, from the violence prevention group, Partners for Prevention, said the studies highlighted the role played by gender inequalities and traditional values that celebrate male dominance.

"What is allowing for men's violence to continue is these ways that we are taught to be men - that are associated with dominance over women - like the idea that we as men are entitled to control women and their bodies - men viewing sexuality and their entitlement to women as sexual objects," he said.

The U.N. study showed domestic violence affected all socio-economic groups. The U.N. indicated violence may rise among men who have less power compared to other men, or face stresses due to substance abuse and poverty.

In Bangkok's slum community Klong Toey, Catholic Priest, Father Joe Maier, who has worked among the poor for several decades, said poverty aggravated the issues of domestic violence, especially when children were involved.

"It's the 'violence' of abandoned children and the women can't take care of their own children. They've got to give up their kids, they can't settle down and just be a mum. He doesn't give them money, he runs around, he gambles. The men use the money to play - the women use their money to take care of the children," he said.

Since the Thai government has improved outreach for female victims of domestic violence, advocates said it now needed to turn its attention toward changing attitudes of men. U.N. researchers said such an effort would start with elevating the status of women and creating “new models” of manhood based more on equality and respect.