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Until two years ago, marital rape was not considered a crime in Thailand. Rape was also defined as a crime involving men and women only, thus robbing boys, transgendered women and men who were raped by men, of legal protection.

Thanks to years of legal and public awareness campaigns by women's and rights groups, the rape law was finally amended to punish marital rape and to expand protection to homosexuals. The formerly narrow definition of rape was also expanded to include anal sex and the insertion of objects into the victim's vagina and anus.

This hard-won victory might prove short-lived, however, given the current concerted effort by conservative state agencies to turn the tide. At the forefront is the Office of Welfare Promotion, Protection and Empowerment of Vulnerable Groups, of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. Citing complaints from the police, physicians and judicial personnel that the new definition of rape is too broad, thus making it difficult to prosecute the perpetrators, the draft amendment wants to bring back the old, narrow definition to cover only forced vaginal intercourse between men and women. Forced oral and anal sex, the use of foreign objects for penetration, and rape between the male sex will be treated under conduct of sexual obscenity. And the criminal punishment for marital rape will be annulled.

Ironically, this draft amendment is disguised as an effort to protect vulnerable groups by increasing punishment for the rape of under-age girls, the disabled, the elderly, and pregnant women. Meanwhile, it tries to pacify the outcry from transsexuals and victims of paedophiles by making the prison terms and fines for the crime of sexual obscenity equal to that of rape.

As for marital rape, the draft amendment says imprisonment is no longer necessary because marital rape is considered part of family problems that need time to resolve. The court also need not issue an order for divorce, it says. If the wife wants a divorce, she can file for it herself. In short, let her suffer for the challenge.

Women's and other rights groups are crying foul. And they should. To start with, blaming a broad definition of rape as cause for legal confusion and subsequent difficulty in compiling proof, is just a smokescreen to protect patriarchy. The amendment proposals fail to show how defining rape victims as females only, and how downgrading the rape of transsexuals and boys to sexual obscenity can help making things easier for officials to compile evidence and prosecute the perpetrators. And the sexist spirit gives itself away with the effort to protect abusive husbands in marital rape, a desperate attempt to maintain family as a bastion of patriarchy. Proving rape is never easy. Society already tends to blame the victims and the perpetrators always try to prove that it was consensual sex. Many victims also back out half-way, unable to withstand the often rude, humiliating questioning from the lawyers of the perpetrators.

If the Office of Welfare Promotion, Protection and Empowerment of Vulnerable Groups wants to live up to its name, it should help the victims of rape - female and male - by making their legal attempts to attain justice less painful, not more difficult.

This draft amendment of the rape law is proof positive of how behind-the-times the Thai bureaucracy is, and how fiercely it protests against change. It also reflects the deep patriarchal values and prejudice against homosexuality. There can only be one right move about this draft amendment: drop it.


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