When Thai Police Fail Abused Victims

In 2018 Setthawut Poonsiriratanakul, 31, was arrested for the murder of his girlfriend, Sunicha Inchuay, 27, in 2011.

Setthawut stabbed Sunicha repeatedly and cut her throat.

Thailand passed the Domestic Violence Protection Act in 2007 in an attempt to punish and reform abusers. Still, A seminar in January this year reported that the number of deaths related to domestic violence in the first 2 weeks of this year was double that of the previous year.

Prachatai English spoke with human rights lawyer, activist, domestic abuse survivor, and founder of SHero, an organization combatting domestic violence, Busayapa “Best” Srisompong, about how Thai police handle complaints of domestic violence. [The interview was conducted in English and is recorded verbatim.]

Busayapa Srisompong (Source: SHero Project)

What did you say during your conversation with the police? How did they respond?

"The first time I walked in the station I asked to report ‘domestic violence’. The officers told me that it was not serious, suggested that I did not need to report because I am not seriously injured. I felt uncomfortable because the interview was not in a private space. I sat where everyone else can hear what is going on easily. It is the front desk area. They suggested that I should talk to my ex and we will be fine. I tried to tell the police that I do not feel safe. They told me to call them if it is happen again. The first attempt I just gave up and walked out.

"I went to a clinic at first then I was referred to the hospital. At the hospital I did body check. OSCC [One Stop Crisis Centre] had made record of my scars, bruises, my head was in pain as well after the attack but I have no brain injuries. I also have the bleeding like period bleeding but it was not internal injury, it occurred from stress. (I was kicked in the stomach as well.) I told them all of these, but for police officers it seems to be normal.

"Then I went back a second time after I spoke to many of my friends and had decided to should report, for safety and for justice. The second time was not easy but I push it and I also called my mentors who are gender specialist and domestic violence advocate. They speak to the police directly. It takes a lot of effort before police officer agree to start the case. Eventually, the officer did help me through the case. They tried convincing me to do mediation procedure with my ex from time to time, but I was firm that I do not want to mediate. I simply have nothing to compromise.

"Domestic violence is a crime. I do not want to be silenced anymore. He later got a year probation and pay a small amount of fine. That was all. I did not ask for compensation. I did not want it. I just want justice."

Do you know what percentage of abused women in Thailand report the abuse?

"It is difficult to identify the prevalence of GBV [gender-based violence] against women because most cases went under-reported, therefore there is no evidence to make statistics. I personally think that we should not narrate GBV story over numbers because GBV happen everywhere, any minutes. The numbers will not be precise and may generalize the wrong image towards certain community. We should look into the numbers of how many cases have achieve access to justice and public services, how many have not. There is no evaluation about satisfaction towards public services on GBV either, which is need to be done to improve the system."

Can you provide any statistics about how Thai police respond to abused women? Do you know how common it is for police to dismiss abused women?

"No statistics. From my professional experiences, all of my cases have difficulty receiving immediate responses from the police officers. All of them struggle to report the case. Struggles to reporting are:

  1. Police try not to open official case, instead, ask questions to the victims in the direction that its victims faults, and convince victims to settle the case at police level by mediation with the abuser.
  2. Telling them that it is not their jurisdiction, victim has to go to other police station, while police can assist the victim by take a record first not just saying no and tell them off.
  3. Victims are often told by police that they cannot report because there is no evidence, where it is their job to find evidence they can’t say no to the victims.

Most people don’t know what to do and give up reporting.

"It can also be a struggle to answer harsh questions at reporting stage, without being in private investigation space, officers asked several inappropriate questions until survivors lost their confidence."

Why do you think that Thai police don’t believe abused women? What are the social reasons behind this? Do you think that the issue of Thai police not believing women is connected to victim-blaming culture?

"Police institution has their organizational problem, lack of funding and human resources to the field offices, changing position of officers inappropriately. Therefore it is rare to find the officers who specialize in certain issues, overworked- overloaded of cases make them dismiss SGBV [Sexual and gender-based violence] cases – as SGBV are the most sensitive and difficult to find evidences. Police officers have to deal with emotions which they do not have (enough) training for it. Also, most domestic violence survivors tend to not complete the case after the officers had opened the case. That is one of the reason police don’t like DV [domestic violence]case (they told me). It can be because of survivors struggle to live relationship and did not have enough psychosocial support to go through the justice procedure.

"For sexual violence survivors, to go through insensitive process you can be triggered/retraumatised easily. So yes there are survivors who choose legal path, but most do not. And survivors who start the case and could not go through with it. The investigation procedure is not victim-friendly due to insensitive interrogation - victims have to repeat your assault incidents for 3-4 times until the trial. Rape cases, most survivors have ‘blackout’ ‘freeze’ or traumatise in the different way. They cannot tell the story the same way every times. Sadly, some law enforcers do not understand and have negative attitudes.

"Most of the time, evidence from rape survivor’s body has already gone because they did not go to hospital and report to the police right after the attack (most don’t come right away due to shock, and disgust feeling make them wash off themselves clear all physical evidence) so it is difficult for the police to proof. But instead of being supportive, officers sometimes hold it against the victims – tend to questions as if they are lying or blaming them for putting themselves at risks.

"However, there have been attempt for police training to deal with sexual assault cases. But changing attitude been interactive workshop and also fund to support work, office spaces, train specific officers to deal only with SGBV cases not mix with other case. I do not want to comment on the police unfairly. There are good police officers that want to help people and change this too. Most are new generation officers who want to create changes within the core of system but it is not easy.

"There are lack of attitude, skill and knowledge capacity in police systems to deal with SGBV cases effectively.

"In terms of deeper root cause, Thai gender stereotyping, norms, normalisation of violence against women have led to victim-blaming culture as a consequence. This is not just happen in police institution, it is everywhere. People internalize those ideas without realizing it, and socialize this idea among police informal forums that have a lot of victim-blaming attitudes and stigmatisation towards sexual violence survivors."

Although these questions pertain to abused women, Busapaya believes that gender-based violence can happen to all genders.