New ‘survival guide’ helps Thai students tackle sexual harassment and abuse of power

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Members of a group called “Bad Student” staked the entrances to high schools and handed out “Student Survival Guides” as part of a campaign launched on Nov. 12. Our Observer, who lives in Bangkok, says the youth group wants to help the students navigate. the authoritarian culture in Thai schools, which she says creates an environment conducive to sexual and physical violence.

Whether it’s knowing your rights or knowing who to talk to if you are bullied, this new ‘Student Survival Guide’ is packed with information on how to navigate difficult and rarely discussed issues in schools. schools.

The guide, which also contains information on organizing protests and sharing messages on social media, was produced by a group called Bad Student, made up of young Thais who have already distributed over 4,000 copies to several schools. .

Members of the Bad Student group hand out textbooks outside a Bangkok college known for having a strict dress code. The school carries out inspections of the students’ hairstyles. The pupils of the school asked the group to come and distribute their textbooks.

“The teachers really believe they can do whatever they want for everyone” Bad Student was born out of a movement of young pro-democracy activists who have been demonstrating in the streets of Bangkok for a year and a half. The group’s goal 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 strict dress codes, including rules regarding student hair, are one of the first steps towards an authoritarian culture in schools:

If you come to Thailand, you will see a lot of students with shaved heads or very short cropped hair. These students had their hair cut by the teachers because they did not follow the hair codes of the school. Teachers think they have the right to do this.

There have even been a few cases of teachers deciding that a girl’s skirt was too short and using scissors to destroy it so that she could no longer wear it.

In some schools, they force children who are not wearing their uniforms correctly to slide their fingernails on the wall.

This authoritarian culture allows teachers to basically do whatever they want to the students, which creates a strict hierarchy and a culture of domination. They really believe they can do whatever they want with us.

Bad Student members say the strict dress codes are a sort of entry point to an educational institution’s perceived right to a student’s body. There is therefore a lot of information in the guide on a person’s right to bodily autonomy. It also includes other fundamental rights of students under national and international law, including freedom of expression and the right to security.

The group raises awareness of these rights through visual performances, which have gone viral on Facebook and TikTok.

>> Learn more about The Observers: In Thailand, student demonstrators are inspired by the Harry Potter and Hunger Games books

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 of have come to light on social media, but they are often covered up by educational institutions.

Last year the country was rocked by two cases of sexual violence in 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 images may be disturbing to some viewers.)

Then, in May 2020, five teachers were arrested and charged with repeatedly raping a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old student. Bad students say these cases are just the tip of the iceberg as most students who are bullied don’t know where to turn:

When a student reports something like this to their school, the school will try to cover up the incident and ask the student to act as if nothing has happened. This sort of thing happens all the time. Because the school believes that if the sexual harassment is made public, the school will lose its reputation. Sometimes they’ll even blame the student, saying something like, “Why didn’t you wear a longer skirt? “

The same applies if the violence was perpetrated by another student or a member of the staff.

The Thai school system considers teachers to be almost like parents. They stay late to watch the students and make sure they get home safe and sound. Ban says she respects some of her teachers, but it’s hard to open up to them.

In this environment, student associations and social networks play an essential role.

Students are more likely to open up on social media because they have the ability to remain anonymous. And usually when you point out an injustice to a teacher, they don’t listen. Often a teacher rejects what a student says. Or they might say, it’s like that in this school or in Thailand. And if you can’t accept the rules, then you should quit this school.

Bad Student concludes their survival guide by teaching students how to form their own groups to effect change in the Thai school system, and how to get their messages across online or at protests. They also provide information on how to find friends and collect testimonials using a common hashtag. They share a form of “do-it-yourself” activism.

This video presents the group’s survival guide. Ban said, “There was a teacher who constantly violated the rights of the students. A student read the textbook to the teacher and she suddenly changed her attitude to be more understanding.

This work is based on our experience. We have all been students at some point and we know what students face in school. We tried to include as much as possible, to think of what might help a student who is on their own. School is supposed to be a safe place for students, but that’s not how it is in Thailand. So if no one is there to help us then we have to create our own tips.

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