6 June 2024

TW: domestic violence, victim-blaming, manipulation

“Every time you say something against the status quo, call out against the abuse of power, against the people who are privileged and don’t want to let go of their entitlement, you will get a backlash.”

This is Busayapa Srisompong’s personal feeling, as she pointed out the social problems that are pressuring women and other genders.

“Sometimes, it feels discouraging, it feels like “what did I do wrong,”” she said. “And I feel bad for all the other women and the LGBTIQ community. Every time they try to speak up against the violation, to demand their rights, the people who really want to maintain the status quo are trying to throw a lot of backlash, trying to push us back and trying to make us feel small.”

From survivor to fighter

While most women would never dare to tell their experience of being abused, to avoid being stigmatised by society, Busayapa is one of a few, who is not afraid to tell her own story of being a domestic violence survivor and to demand the justice which she and everyone else deserves.

As a human rights lawyer and the founder of Shero, a non-profit organisation which aims to eliminate domestic abuse in Thailand, Busayapa’s determination is to de-normalise violence against women, children and all other genders.

Her journey began in 2015, when she was working at the Thailand Institute of Justice. While doing numerous projects, Busayapa started to question herself about the rule of law and the current access to Thailand’s justice system. The following year, she moved to the Thai-Myanmar border as a human rights advocate, to find out how difficult it was for marginalised groups, particularly the migrant population and stateless, to get access to the justice system.

Later on, after experiencing domestic abuse herself, Shero was established, with a simple goal to create a domestic-violence-free society and to empower survivors to become advocates of their own.

“Anyone, regardless of gender, can be a change-maker and can stand up for something. So, it’s not just “he”, but it can be “she” or the LGBTIQAN+ community doing that.”

Busayapa also reflected that building her own organisation, alongside her volunteering work giving legal advice, consultations, and workshops, became part of her healing process.

“I had to admit that, when I started Shero, it was like a way of healing myself, but then it’s almost as if I was trying to survive, because it was actually a traumatic experience.”

Image Credit: Shero

Victim-blaming and misconceptions

As a survivor herself, Busayapa truly understands how difficult it was to heal after the trauma, to fight for justice and to claim the rights they already have. The most difficult part for her, including other survivors, was, however, to fight against the victim-blaming attitude that is everywhere in Thai society.

“I thought that I was physically, emotionally and psychologically abused and that I should be able to ask for help,” she said. “But it was a big disappointment when I saw how people were not empathetic at all and I could see how they almost laughed at me.”

The former victim also explained, in detail, the most common misconceptions about domestic violence, drawing on her own story.

The biggest misconception is that abusers will not approach you as an evil person, as seen in movies, but would often approach you as a very nice, kind or gentle person, luring you into thinking that they could be the “perfect partner”. Busayapa also explains that abusers would often appear as someone who has a well-paid job and portray a good image in public, but are monsters at home.

“So, you would feel isolated, because your friends and family would think they are a very nice person. How can that person do that to you? Is it you who is the problem? These voices kept echoing in my head a lot, and I put all the blame on myself.”

Another misconception is that victims don’t always appear with multiple bruises or bleeding in front of the police, which is something Busayapa thinks often makes police dismissive and assume they are “okay”.

“So that’s why I keep saying that there’s no perfect victim, but then, if you meet someone who has stereotypical views, that victims only look like this, they throw the victim-blaming attitude back at you.”

Image Credit: Shero

No support system?

With that experience in mind, the human rights lawyer feels that the existing protection system is “dysfunctional” and unsupportive of victims of domestic and gender-based violence, as such cases are often considered to be personal issues.

Going to police stations or to the court is already a daunting experience for victims. Busayapa feels, however, that officials don’t understand the sensitivity nor the complexity of such cases, particularly the “power-imbalance” between the abuser and the victim. Even worse, they are often unaware of the invisible scars, which she explains, are the hardest to heal for all survivors, including Busayapa herself.

“Of course, their self-esteem is already taken away because of what the abuser does to the victim, which is to slowly degrade the person, through manipulation or gaslighting. Imagine someone who’s already feeling so small and trying to go through the system where they make them feel small as well. You feel like everywhere is so dark because of how the whole system fails to listen to the survivor.”

Therefore, the biggest challenge is how the whole “dysfunctional” structure should be fixed. She thinks “if the problem is the system and the policy, why don’t we change them instead of isolating and stigmatising people who need help?”

Image Credit: Shero

Don’t blame women, blame patriarchy

Another problem that is still holding women back to this very day is the patriarchy, which is deep-rooted in all parts of Thai society. Gender stereotypes and expectations of how women should behave also persist from generation to generation.

“As a woman, you were told to feel small, to be a lady, not to talk too much and that you should behave yourself, be modest and naive, essentially telling you to be stupid.” On the other hand, as Busayapa explains, men are often told to be free, to be a leader and, sadly, being violent is somewhat acceptable.

“These kinds of gender norms come from the patriarchal culture, giving someone power over another identity. Without patriarchy or the gender power imbalance, there wouldn’t be gender-based violence.”

Busayapa strongly believes that the patriarchy is the root cause of many social problems, and it also oppresses women from speaking up and speaking out against abuse, including the victim-blaming attitude.

“It’s the patriarchal culture that reinforces this whole thing. So that’s why it’s society’s responsibility to fix this, because we have socialised people to have the privilege to abuse other people.”

“If we can de-normalise the patriarchal belief, whether it’s through the educational system, the books that we read from when we are young, the media, the soap operas that we watch, de-normalise the patriarchal culture in the law itself, in the economic system, or the healthcare system, it’s going to solve a lot of problems.”

Image Credit: Shero

You have the power within yourself

Regardless of the struggles and pressures she went through, Busayapa is grateful for all the support she has received, especially from people working in the human rights field and other empowered women with whom she surrounded herself, who reminded her that she has every right to stand up for herself.

“The key factor in overcoming these challenges, as a domestic violence survivor, is having the support system, being empowered, having the knowledge to know what you can do and having the space to decide for yourself.”

She also believes that everyone can empower each other to fight against domestic violence and make positive changes in society.

“Once you are empowered as a woman, or regardless of what gender you are, you will always be able to empower other people,” she said. “I hope that we can keep this culture where we can always empower each other.”

The Shero founder also offered advice on how to feel self-empowered. Recognise your own worth, connect and surround yourself with supportive people and recognise the systemic barriers that are weighing you down.

“I believe you have the power within yourself. I believe that you are an amazing individual, and it’s so unfair that, somehow, the sociological system is pushing you down. Since the day we are born, we have had to go through so many kinds of gender stereotypes and norms, which are trying to repress you, but the fact is that you are still alive today, you fight so hard and you persist to be who you are today.”

Most importantly… “If you’re someone who has experienced emotional, verbal, or physical abuse, you have every right to stand up for yourself and it is not your fault.”

By Nad Bunnag, Thai PBS World