After being accepted into the Faculty of Law at Chulalongkorn University – one of Thailand’s top institutions – some male students were invited to join a Line chat group exclusively for men.
It started off as a casual conversation. Then, the chatroom mushroomed into a space for men to rate the sexiness of female students based on their profile photos.
These men, as well as those from the pre-law program they were admitted to, are now being raked over the coals for taking a casual view of sexual harassment, and their case is shedding new light on Thailand’s history of misogyny.
“I want to take a part-time job at a student uniform shop so I can measure women students’ body sizes,” wrote one male student in the LAWMEN Line group of 61 members that was exposed online over the weekend by Twitter user @Adoretherealme.
The chat group didn’t target just women from the Faculty of Law. According to leaked messages, female students from other faculties, including Arts, Communication Arts, and Business Administration, also fell victim to the group’s online sexual harassment.
When the secret group came to light, many netizens urged the law school to take immediate action. Assistant Professor Pareena Supjariyavatr, the dean of the Faculty of Law at Chulalongkorn University, even promised to take action.
“We are terribly sorry for any students who fell victim to the intolerable actions committed by our prospective students,” Pareena wrote early Monday. “Our faculty will take immediate measures to investigate the issue.”
Calls made on Monday to the Faculty of Law went unanswered although several others from the university have weighed in on the matter.
“You don’t have to wait until you become law students to understand this issue,” wrote Thitinant Tengaumnuay, a law lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, on her personal Facebook account. “Sexual harassment and violation of personal privacy are a breach of human standards … we should treat others as human, not sexual objects. This kind of behavior should not be overlooked. It’s not funny. It puts other male students in our faculty in a negative light.”
The revelations have prompted student councils from other faculties to condemn the law students’ actions. The public statement from the Student Council of Communication Arts, however, has met with criticism from Thanaporn “Kwan” Saleephol, who pointed out that the Faculty of Communication Arts at Chulalongkorn University did not take action over past sexual harassment that occured under its own roof. On what was dubbed as “GentleMen Night,” senior male students several years ago would gather freshmen who were straight and ask them to rate female students based on their looks. Those who identified as queer were also forced to come out without their consent.
In response to Thanaporn’s post, the Communication Arts Student Association gave a public apology, in which it also claimed that the ritual no longer existed.
“Thai students are often left in the dark,” Thanaporn said. “There are no clear guidelines on what students should do when they are faced with sexual harassment or endure sexual assault, and this usually leaves them to resort to online platforms before universities take action.”
“Proper remedial action and awareness campaigns need to be included in orientation programs to protect students and prevent future problems,” Thanaporn added.
Sexual harassment and hazing rituals at the university level remain commonplace in Thailand. At the workplace, protection against such cases only became law in 2008, under Section 16 of the Labor Protection Act. Yet, claims of abuse remain frequent.
Victim-blaming also runs rampant. In March 2018, a government official remarked that women should “not dress sexily” during Songkran to avoid sexual assault, sparking widespread backlash as well as activism against sexual harassment.
A 2019 YouGov poll revealed that one in five Thais had experienced sexual harassment, and men were almost as likely to experience harassment as women (18% to 23%).