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On Campus: The Absence of NO is not a YES

Ten years ago, when Wipaphan ’Nana’ Wongsawang was 19 years old, she was sexually assaulted. She kept it to herself for two years, until one day her friend had a similar experience and confided in her about it. Together, they reported the friend’s assault to the police, but were met with indifference.

By Milla Budiarto

Sunday 5 September 2021, 02:00PM

While researching online trying to help her friend’s case, Nana stumbled upon the term ‘consent’ and learned that the word ‘consent’ doesn’t really exist in the Thai language. Inspired by this new-found insight, she saw an opportunity to break the silence through education about consent. She was motivated to challenge gender power imbalance and determined to dismantle the systemic rape culture in Thai society. Through an acquaintance, I was lucky enough to meet with this courageous young woman virtually and talk with her about her journey.

In 2015, Nana created ThaiConsent (Website: www.thaiconsent.in.th; Facebook: Thaiconsent), a platform for Thai people to anonymously share their personal stories surrounding sexual consent to raise public awareness. Some of the stories published are accompanied with illustrations created by Nana herself or other volunteer artists to capture and engage the audience visually.

First and foremost, sexual consent means actively and enthusiastically agreeing to participate in any sexual activities with someone. Consent involves a clear, honest and open communication between the partners ‒ talking about their wants, needs and expectations. Consent is about setting your personal boundaries and respecting each other’s limits. Consent cannot be given by someone who is underage, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, unconscious or asleep. Silence is not consent. Any sexual activity without consent is sexual assault or rape.

Although sex education is taught in Thai schools, Nana feels that the curriculum is outdated and severely inadequate. Students are taught merely about reproductive body parts, sexually-transmitted diseases and pregnancy prevention. The curriculum portrays sex the same way as drugs: to stay away from it as far as possible. The idea of sexual consent is rarely discussed. Consequently, boys and girls did not learn that in order to have a healthy, romantic relationship they must always ask for consent before engaging in any sexual activities. Even importantly, they are not taught that they can always say no to sex. 

Nana says that in Thai society, the deeply ingrained gender stereotypes and imbalance of power often unfairly put the blame on the victims, who are disproportionately women, when they are sexually assaulted. This distorted perception of gender roles leads to the perpetual victim-blaming of women, while excusing the perpetrators. Men and gender nonconforming people also experience sexual assaults and can be subjected to unfair victim-blaming. Victim-blaming is destructive, it is frequently used to scrutinize, minimize, control and silence the victim. Normalizing sexual assaults and rape is known as rape culture.

In the context of sexual relationships, Nana explains that the prescribed gender roles in the society and the manifestation of power imbalance often prevent women from expressing their needs and feelings. When the woman declines to engage in a sexual activity, the man sometimes thinks that he can talk the woman into it by relentlessly pursuing and pressuring her. Nana points out that in Thai language a term for this is ตื๊อ (dtéu), which means to keep insisting until the other person reluctantly succumbs to the pressure.

Since launching ThaiConsent, Nana says that the feedback she received has been overwhelmingly positive. Up to now, ThaiConsent has racked up almost 56,000 followers on its Facebook page and 21,500 followers on Twitter.

“This opens up the way for Thai people to talk about sex in a non-pornographic way. So, it’s quite new. Now survivors can feel more empowered through this, whether they get legal justice or not,” she says. 

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ThaiConsent is run by a group of volunteers based in Bangkok. Despite having very little funding, Nana and the team remain focused and undeterred. ThaiConsent is currently developing a comprehensive web platform where people can ask questions, share stories, and connect with others in the community in a safe and supportive environment.

The journey to achieve gender equality and to eliminate rape culture may seem like a daunting task to undertake, but it is not impossible. It requires tremendous hard work, dedication, perseverance and unwavering conviction, because change doesn’t happen overnight.

Nana concludes, “If someone starts somewhere, things are bound to change. During the past five years, I have seen the change with my own eyes. Even though my background is in graphic design, this does not stop me from doing what I do with ThaiConsent. If I can change one person’s life, for me, that is progress.”

Understanding about consent is ultimately sexual assault prevention. Any form of sexual assault is a severe violation of human rights. We must challenge gender stereotypes and stand up against rape culture. Let’s start ‒ or join ‒ the conversation.

The interview was transcribed by Sarah Avedikian

NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PSU Phuket and its employees or official policies of PSU Phuket.

Milla Budiarto is an international affairs officer at the International Affairs Centre, Prince of Songkla University (PSU) Phuket Campus. This article was featured in ‘The Phuket Collegiate Magazine’, the university magazine published by Milla at PSU Phuket. For more information, visit: https://www.phuket.psu.ac.th/en/magazine or to share ideas with Milla email: magazine@phuket.psu.ac.th

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