New 'survival guide' helps Thai students fight sexual harassment, power abuse
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Members of a group called “Bad Student” have been staking out the entrances of secondary schools and handing out “student survival guides” as part of a campaign launched November 12. Our Observer, who lives in Bangkok, says the group of young people wants to help students navigate the authoritarian culture at Thai schools, which it says creates an environment promoting sexual and physical violence.
From knowing your rights to knowing whom to talk to if you get harassed, this new “survival guide for students” is full of information on how to navigate difficult and rarely addressed issues within schools.
The guide, which also contains information on organising protests and sharing messages on social media, was put together by a group called Bad Student, made up of young Thai people who have already handed out more than 4,000 copies at several schools.
'The teachers really believe they can do whatever they want to us'
Bad Student was born out of a movement of young, pro-democracy activists who have been demonstrating in the streets of Bangkok for the past year and a half. The group’s aim is to change the culture within Thai educational institutions.
Thanchanok Koshpasharin, known as "Ban", is 21 years old and lives and studies in Bangkok. She says that strict dress codes, including rules about students’ hair, are one of the first steps toward an authoritarian culture within schools:
If you come to Thailand, you’ll see a lot of students with shaved heads or hair cut really short. These students had their hair cut off by teachers because they didn’t follow school hair codes. The teachers think they have the right to do this.
There have even been a few cases of teachers deciding that a girl’s skirt is too short and using scissors to destroy it so she can’t wear it again.
At some schools, they force kids who aren't wearing their uniform properly to drag their nails across the wall.
This authoritarian culture allows teachers to do basically anything they want to students, which establishes a strict hierarchy and a culture of domination. They really believe they can do whatever they want to us.
Bad Student members say strict dress codes are a sort of entry point to an educational institution’s perceived right over a student’s body. So there is a lot of information in the guide about a person’s right to bodily autonomy. It also includes other fundamental rights for students under national and international law, including freedom of expression and the right to safety.
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Over the past few years, there have been a number of high-profile cases in Thailand involving the harassment, sexual or otherwise, of students. Most of the cases we know about were revealed on social media – but they are frequently covered up by educational institutions.
Last year, the country was shaken by two cases of sexual violence within Thai schools. The first case came to light in April 2020 when a video was posted online showing a school principal groping a 12-year-old student under her clothes. (Warning: The footage may be disturbing to some viewers.)
Then, in May 2020, five school teachers were arrested and charged with repeatedly raping a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old student. Bad Student says these cases are just the tip of the iceberg because most students who are victims of harassment do not know where to turn:
When a student reports something like this to their school, the school will try to cover up the incident and will ask the student to act like nothing has happened. This kind of thing happens all the time. Because the school thinks that if the sexual harassment is made public, the school will lose their reputation. Sometimes, they will even blame the student, saying something like, 'Why didn’t you wear a longer skirt?'
It is the same whether the violence was perpetrated by another student or a member of staff.
The Thai school system considers teachers to be almost like parents. They stay late to keep an eye on the students and make sure they get home safely. Ban says she respects some of her teachers, but that it is hard to open up to them.
In this environment, student associations and social media play an essential role.
Students are more likely to open up on social media because they have the possibility of remaining anonymous. And in general, when you report an injustice to a teacher, they don’t listen. Often, a teacher will dismiss what a student is saying. Or they might say, that’s just how it is at this school or in Thailand. And if you can’t accept the rules, then you should leave this school.
Bad Student concludes its survival guide by explaining to students how to create their own groups to bring change within the Thai school system, and how to get their messages across online or in protests. They also provide information on how to find friends and gather testimonies using a common hashtag. They share a "do-it-yourself" form of activism.
This work is based on our experience. We were all students at a point in time and we know what students face at school. We’ve tried to include as much as possible, to think what might help a student who is left to fend for themselves. School is supposed to be a safe place for students but it isn’t like that in Thailand. So if no one is there to help us, then we have to create our own advice.