Search or assault? Thai security grab crotches, stick fingers under bras at ‘808 Festival’

Images: Hitomi Okemoto/Twitter
Images: Hitomi Okemoto/Twitter

Attendees at a massive Bangkok music festival said security guards groped their crotches and reached inside their underwear to touch their bare breasts.

A woman attending the three-day 808 Festival at BITEC Bang Na said guards touched all women “between [the] legs, they actually touched pussy over clothes” and “touched my nipple directly.” She also published images and videos of other attendees being groped in the same way and said there was no advance notice or attempt to gain consent.

“I’ve been to other festivals in Thailand, and [nothing happened like] this sexual body check before,” Japanese national Hitomi Okemoto told Coconuts this morning. “It was way too much, I think other women also felt disgusted and scared and sad.”

She said she will never attend the 808 Festival again.

“I hope they don’t make any money next year after harassing women like this,” she added.

A Coconuts reporter attending the festival noted that guards were touching women and men under their underwear with their bare hands before they entered the venue. Men were assigned to the men; women checked the female attendees.

Ten other attendees told a reporter they also felt inappropriately touched by security. The search tactics seemed to mostly target women, with multiple male attendees saying they were not intimately searched.

But earlier chat messages posted by Okemoto on social media appeared to show festival organizers claiming the private security guards were “police looking for drugs” and that they “had no control over it.”

They also told her: “Every festival is subjected to body searches. It’s a standard procedure.” When told that festival security usually does not search under the bra, organizers responded “There is a sign written at the entry area that mentions this.” 

Neither this reporter nor Okemoto saw such a sign. Okemoto said she was troubled by statements from 808 Festival organizers.

“I hope organizers can explain without lying because they only told me they were Thai government officers and that they couldn’t do anything about it,” she said.

Neither festival organizers nor the Nonthaburi province-based security firm identified in photos, The Security AF Team, responded to messages and calls Monday morning. After being told a story would be published, a man identifying himself as Eiw, the firm’s head of security, called to say they were “just following orders, what the organizers are telling me.”

“The way we work is to prevent drugs from entering the festival,” he said, declining to give his name. “The way people bring in drugs are hidden in places that we can’t reach.”

Asked if he thought the touching was appropriate, said that he had no idea but reiterated that people shouldn’t take drugs, and he was just following orders:

“I don’t know about that. We were just doing our job. By day three of the festival, more and more people were caught with drugs, at least over 100 people. We take photos and send them to the police. We just want to provide a safe space for all and to warn people not to take drugs.”

Despite what the festival rep told Okemoto, he said there were no signs warning people of the search methods.

A media relations publicist for the festival confirmed that they hired the security team and also defended the searches as “necessary” due to this year’s strict no-drug policy.

The rep, who also declined to give her name, said that Okemoto had exaggerated the search methods despite numerous corroborative accounts.

Another intermediary reached out to say that one of the festival’s founders was “not happy w some things that came to light [yesterday]“ and asked for Coconuts to wait another day to publish a story while they were investigating. She did not give his name.

Several people assured Okemoto that what she experienced was not OK.

“It’s sexual assault,” one person wrote in reply on social media. “No one should accept this, it is not usual in Thailand. These behaviors must be denounced, the organizers are responsible.”

Thousands of people attended the festival held Friday to Sunday night at BITEC, where they paid about THB4,000 to see international EDM acts such as Armin van Buuren, DJ Snake, Hardwell, Illenium, and Zedd.

Back in September, similar complaints were made about security at Together Festival, another major EDM event. Women complained they were touched under their bras, and men had their testicles touched.

Okemoto said no such invasive searches were conducted at the Wonderfruit or S2O festivals.

Attendees at both events complained of being forced to empty their purses and bags. Some were told to take off their shoes and socks. 

While illicit party drugs are routinely sneaked into such events worldwide, attendees are not groped without their consent.

“I have no idea if this is normal in Thailand?” Okemoto wrote on Twitter. “I live in Thailand more than 3 years, and I traveled 32 countries. This is first time happened to me, and I feel disgusting.”

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