June 29, 2018 / 11:52 AM / 5 months ago

From shorts to scrubs, Bangkok exhibition spotlights victim blaming

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - From a two-year-old’s sequined t-shirt to hospital scrubs, an exhibition in Bangkok of clothes worn by girls and women when they were sexually assaulted seeks to shine a light on the victim blaming that often accompanies such cases in Thailand.

The display is the brainchild of model and TV host Cindy Bishop, who launched a social media campaign earlier this year after a Thai official suggested women cover up to avoid assault at the popular Songkran water festival.

The hashtag #DontTellMeHowToDress went viral as women in Thailand took to social media to share their stories of being groped and harassed during Songkran in previous years.

“I picked these items from more than 50 sets of clothing of victims, to show a range of ages and types of sexual violence, and perpetrators,” Bishop told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Friday.

“It was a very emotional experience, but I wanted to show that women are not to blame - no matter what they are wearing.”

The exhibition features more than a dozen outfits worn by victims when they were assaulted by neighbors, friends, family and employers, from the shorts and sequined t-shirt of a two-year-old to a long “sack” dress, and hospital scrubs.

Curated by Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation, a rights group, it also includes photographs that tackle the stigma around female sexuality and a wall of myths and misconceptions about sexual violence.

Nearly 60 percent of women said they were groped during Songkran, the annual festival that marks the Thai New Year, according to a survey by the Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation.

Only a small number reported these incidents to police.

Bishop said she was assaulted by a group of men during Songkran when she was a teenage girl more than two decades ago.

She was inspired by an installation last year at the University of Kansas titled “What were you wearing?” to keep the conversation going.

The past year has been pivotal for women’s rights after accusations of sexual misconduct by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein sparked the #MeToo campaign, with women taking to social media and the streets to highlight experiences of abuse.

That campaign failed to make much of a mark in Thailand, but months before, a student created a stir when she wrote a Facebook post about being assaulted by another student.

Thararat Panya said she did not report her attacker to the police because the process is complex, and because the police are unsympathetic and judgmental, often blaming the victim.

“It is a big problem, but no one talks about it,” she said.

“I wanted to encourage other victims of sexual abuse to speak out without shame or guilt.”

In Thailand, nearly 90 percent of rape cases go unreported to police, and rape is sometimes legitimized based on a woman’s past sexual history, according to a study published last year by U.N. Women.

“This is not going to be solved with a social media campaign and an exhibit,” said Bishop.

“But people are more ready to talk about it now.”

Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran. Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.

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