In March of 2017, Thararat “Noon” Panya
, 22, then a third-year law student at Thammasat University, wanted to start a conversation about Thailand’s rape culture. She went public with her story of sexual assault, the media debate that followed saw the whole spectrum of public opinion, from victim-blaming and denial to support and commendation. On Mar 7, Noon spoke at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand as part of a panel discussing the relevance of the #MeToo movement in Thailand. This week, she was announced as one of the members of the new Future Forward Party
. Here, she shares with us her views on the pervasiveness of sexual assault in Thailand.
Can you tell us about what happened last March?
I was out drinking with friends. Everybody was drunk so we all crashed at a friend’s room, which is a pretty normal thing for uni students. There were both men and women. I woke up during the night finding my friend using his legs to lock me while he forced my hand and grabbed me.
What did you want to achieve by coming forward with your story?
Speaking about this publicly was me winning a fight inside myself. I had moments where I thought I was going to keep it all to myself. But I wanted to change the perception of victimhood and sexual assault. There could be no progress without change, and if I wanted change, I needed to speak up. Everyone has the right to speak up, to not hide their face.
What was the reception among your peers?
Good and bad. Even though I had prepared myself for it, I didn’t expect to create this much of a storm. It made me realize that our society has never properly spoken about this before.
Do you think anything has changed since then?
People have started to speak up. Maybe not about their [sexual assault] stories, but about sex. Their perspective on sexual assault has also changed. They’re not bashing the victim or victimizing me anymore.
Why don’t more Thai women speak out about sexual assault?
On top of the society backlash and having this tra baap chee wit [scar for life], Thai women don’t realize that they are equal to men. Or even when they know their rights, they are afraid to upset the social norms that say a woman should keep quiet. Also, reporting sexual assault is difficult because there isn’t a clear process.
Do you think the laws around sexual assault in Thailand are adequate?
The law is clear about the consequences. But the process for reporting needs to be made easier. There’s no proper procedure. For example, a woman who reports assault to the police has to tell her story over and over to different officials. Why can’t they just record her testimony instead of having her relive the trauma? Thai people don’t know what to do following assault. Even in university, we’re taught how to avoid certain situations, but there’s no information on what to do in the case of sexual assault.
What do you think about the potential reach of #MeToo in Thailand?
Thailand’s public conversations and knowledge about sex are so limited. Education doesn’t pay enough attention to sexual harassment at all. Discussion about sex needs to come before we can have a #MeToo movement. Also, in foreign countries celebrities can champion the movement, but in Thailand celebrities are bound to behave by certain conventions.
Is television and media culture to blame for Thailand’s attitude toward sexual assault?
I don’t want to use the word “blame,” but the media definitely shapes society’s perspective. Women are brought up to understand men’s bad behavior as normal. We’re used to seeing the “evil” woman raped as punishment. But if TV could produce good content, like lakorn [Thai soap operas] that direct our attention towards problems of these stories, then society can begin to change its perspective about sexual misconduct. The more people talk about sexual assault, the sooner we can acknowledge the problem and try to find solutions.