After researchers reviewed 290 case files of sexual assault in Thailand and Vietnam, a new study conducted by the UN has concluded that women in these two countries experience serious discrimination in the legal system, which contributes to difficulties in seeking justice after heinous crimes are committed against them.
A commonly shared belief among the justice officials in both Thailand and Vietnam is that rape is only something that happens to low class and uneducated individuals or minors. There is also stigma about the way women dress and act around men, which leads officers to come to conclusions about why some victims are raped.
“You were raped because of the way you dressed yourself, if not by this offender, you would be abused by another,” read a statement from a Vietnamese police officer in one of the reviewed cases. Many other reports follow suit in blaming women for the crimes against them.
In both Vietnam and Thailand, there is a concern about the way female victims are treated by the police. Vietnamese police officers are made up mostly of men, which can discourage a woman to share personal information while being interviewed
“I am a woman and I was raped. It was difficult for me to overcome shameful feelings; the feelings that my body was dirty. It was difficult for me to explain to male police officers. I was raped by men and I had to tell the story to men? No, I’d rather talk to a women, they have similar bodies as mine,” said a female rape survivor from Thailand.
In Thailand, officers are not put through any kind of formal mediation or settlement training, yet often take on this role for victims and their perpetrators. Interviews between the two parties often become uncomfortable for the victim due to the nature of the questions asked, the public setting of the meeting, and the fact that they have to speak about the incident in front of their rapist.
Another popular belief in these countries is that rape usually involves strangers and is committed in public areas. After reviewing the 290 cases, it was found that nearly 91 percent of suspects were known to the victims, and the violence took place in a private space.
There are many barriers that Vietnamese and Thai women face, ones which contribute to why these women aren’t heard in the justice system. Inadequate protection is offered to victims, settlements are encouraged to happen outside of the justice system, and when a case does make it to court, a victim’s credibility is taken into account more than forensic or physical evidence. Due to these barriers, and many other gaps in the law, only 100 of 3,000 sexual assault cases this year were taken to court.
The UN study recommended many changes in the Vietnamese and Thai legal systems, some of which are already being implemented. The Vietnamese government has amended their penal code and criminal procedures to better support the victims of sexual violence, free legal aid is now being offered, and victims are being placed in closed hearing rooms to discuss their cases.
The Royal Thai Police are expanding their training of judges and police officers to avoid stereotyping, and forensic professionals are being trained to ensure evidence is collected in a way that does not contribute to further female victimization. Funding is also being put towards a public campaign to inform victims of their own rights.
Even after these changes, there is still a long way to go for the women in these countries to experience justice after being raped or sexually assaulted.
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