Within Thai society, a bestial heart that condones rape

The appalling rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl on a Bangkok-bound train last week generated widespread discussion in the social and mainstream media about possible solutions to Thailand's rampant sexual violence. The many factors contributing to the problem have been scrutinised in detail, but let's face the cruel truth: we must first acknowledge our sexist culture and then try and dismantle it.

What lies beneath our male-dominated culture does no good for the victims of sexual violence. It tends to punish the victim rather than embrace and comfort her. Thousands of incidents go unreported each year because the victims are too ashamed to come forward. They are left to suffer in the mistaken belief that they were somehow responsible for the crime. And the brave ones who do seek legal justice face the horrible possibility of being "raped" again during interrogation by police and cross-examination by the lawyer for the accused. It is, sadly, not just the law but also law enforcement that is sexist in Thailand. Considering what is required of the victim (the "burden" of proof), the entire justice system is skewed against her.

The mentality of public officials is a central issue. Should the perpetrator be someone the victim knows personally, the authorities will almost automatically suspect collusion - and consent. A Dutch tourist discovered this two years ago when police were dismissive of her rape claim because she had dined with the Thai man accused. The misconception that a woman is "inviting" rape or at least expecting sex if she shows friendliness or even intimacy is egregious but widespread.

And such attitudes run deep in every segment of Thai society. In television soap operas the female villain often seduces the hero and then claims he raped her. The portrayal implies strong disapproval of seduction, yet scant condemnation of rape. At home and in schools, young women are taught to dress "properly" so as not to draw unwanted attention, while no one ever teaches boys that sexual assault is wrong - regardless of how a woman is dressed or behaves.

Those who enforce our laws need to better understand how vile and hurtful rape is.

For a victim to come forward and stand up in public to make an accusation - her identity barely shielded - requires a great deal of courage. They must have public support to withstand the challenging, drawn-out fight for justice.

The statute of limitations for rape extends a mere three months. This is a further burden for a victim of modest financial means whose attacker has money and influence. Thai authorities tend to swoon under the guile of money and power. Even in Canada, that purported bastion of justice, it took five years for a physician's female patient to prove rape, simply because he was so highly respected.

If women are weak, it is entirely because of the values constructed and maintained by men. The law caters to men and to male sensibilities. Female needs go largely unacknowledged.

The heinous crime on the train has chiefly led to calls for wider application of the death penalty. What has not been said enough is that the tragedy demands a long look in the mirror.

Every Thai - not just the authorities - must look at himself, his family, his friends, his co-workers, his neighbours and the various media that influence him. He (and she) must harshly judge where the flaws lie and what has to change.