Wandee Chantri recalls the beatings she suffered at the hands of her husband. "He slapped and kicked me so many times," the 43-year-old said, when she challenged him over his extramarital affairs. "But I kept silent. I didn't want a divorce. I had to think of my child."
That silence was no longer possible, however, when barely conscious, she walked into a Bangkok police station. "I remember that day well. He knocked my head against the wall. I was covered in blood," she explained. "I knew this was the end of our marriage."
However, "the police refused to file charges against him, describing it as a domestic dispute instead", she said.
According to the Public Health Ministry's One Stop Crisis Center (OSCC), of the more than 19,000 cases of violent abuse reported against women and children in 2007, 80 percent involved domestic violence - a significant increase.
In 2005, 11,542 cases of violence against women and children were reported, with 13,550 in 2006.
Much of the violence was inflicted by husbands, lovers or relatives, with jealousy or drunkenness the most cited cause.
"The number we have still does not reflect the actual situation of violent abuse of women in Thailand. The real number could be a lot more," warned Pornpet Panjapiyakul of Thailand's Bureau of Health System Development Department, which oversees information systems of the hospital-based OSCC.
The recent increases "could be because we are more efficient in reaching the victims as more OSCC bases have been established or it could be from the intense economic, political and social context of Thailand", Panjapiyakul said.
Accurate figures on domestic violence are difficult to come by as traditionally most Thais consider it a private matter to be kept behind closed doors, he explained.
Moreover, sufferers often feel a sense of shame, with most cases reported by neighbours or non-family members, he added.
To address this, the Ministry of Health plans to work with more local hospitals to increase OSCC bases from 253 to 792 next year, as well as to develop a network of people inside the community to help report more cases.
Although the OSCC was established in 2001, many staff still do not have the gender sensitivity training they need to respond to victims effectively, said Supensri Puengkoksoong, who heads the Women's Rights Protection Center of Friends of Women Foundation, a local NGO.
|Some police officers don't even understand the new law which no longer allows husbands to rape their wives. Sometimes they send the victim back to talk to their husbands.|
"Some police officers don't even understand the new law which no longer allows husbands to rape their wives," Puengkoksoong said. "Sometimes they send the victim back to talk to their husbands," she said of the OSCC staff, noting that many believe sexual molestation within the family should be sorted out between spouses.
"We have a new law, a new system, but it still cannot change the attitude of people," she said, noting that no woman had ever reported a marital rape case against their husband to the police.
"There have been some reports of physical and mental abuse, but the number is too small and there has yet to be a single case of marital rape," Puengkoksoong confirmed.
Supatra Putananusorn, National Coordinator of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discriminations Against Women (CEDAW), maintains that as a signatory since 1985, Thailand was obligated to ensure the equal rights of men and women and to eliminate violence and discrimination against women.
"It's a very good thing that some of the laws have been amended but there are some laws that still show discrimination against women. One of the other great concerns from the committee is the continued prevalence of traditional, discriminatory attitudes toward women in Thailand," Putananusorn said.
Wilasinee Phiphitkul, of the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, a government body, and leading feminist scholar, provided a gender analysis of the causes of violence against women, stating that the most obstructive problem came from the attitude of women themselves toward domestic violence presented through the media.
"They [women] accept the violence and romanticise it. You can see that in soap dramas. Slap/kiss scenes are very popular among Thai women. They dream about romance and violence, but it doesn't exist," she said.
"We have to eradicate gender bias and build the whole new gender perception which contributes to equality between sexes," Phiphitkul said. "That's the way to stop domestic violence against women in Thailand."