Changing Youth’s Perception about Sexual Abuse and Romance in Thai Soap Operas
Many years ago, I was talking with a group of friends about the “rape love scenes” of the highest rated soap opera in Thailand’s Primetime, The Power of Shadow. One of my friends was curious about the prevalence of violence and sexual abuse between male and female lead characters as an act of love. In no less than five minutes, between the lot of us, we could recall about thirty-five names of famous soap operas- or la korn– that contain scenes of this nature.
The countless number of soap operas Thai youth grow up watching often contain what Thais refer to as “love scenes.” In truth, these “love scenes” consist of the leading male character getting drunk, returning home to fight over nonsense matters, and then raping the leading female. The “rapist turned lover” has become a common theme, expected by Thais audiences. This encourages la korn producers to maintain themes such as “slap then kiss” and “rape then love” as a way to keep drawing in viewers.
The rape of a female leading character by a handsome leading male as a way to revenge what her family did to his family years ago is perceived as entertainment. At the conclusion of most dramas like this, law enforcement is never summoned to hold the leading protagonist responsible, rather, the story usually ends with the female forgiving him and they go on to live happily ever after. The twist and unfortunate reality is that these dramas can play out in real life. Earlier this year for example, in Phattalug- one of the most southern provinces in Thailand- four youth, ages 17-18, were arrested with the charges of murdering a 19 year old man and gang raping his girlfriend, all to revenge him for “grievances” against their female relative.
It is surprising that the same kinds of acts are perceived differently in drama and reality. Many of Thai TV viewers usually comment, “It is okay when the rape happens in a drama, because we know they will fall in ‘love’ with each other anyway, but in reality this case is definitely an unforgivable crime.”
As adults, we are able to differentiate TV drama from reality, but not all viewers are capable of correct discernment when it comes to violent and sexually abusive scenes. The recent research shows that children, 6-14 years of age, spend an average of 6 hours glued to the TV, watching their favorite la korns or TV programs. One time, I asked my 8 years old niece if it was okay for the male lead to rape the female lead in the soap opera we happened to be watching together. She took a while and then indirectly replied, “Aren’t they supposed to fall in love with each other later anyway?”. An outcome similar to other dramas she had recently seen. Her answer made me wonder how many millions of youth throughout the country are watching dramas like these, without supervision or guidance. My fear is that they may be receiving the wrong message: that rape is simply one form of love.
In 2008, Thailand’s Assumption University conducted a survey with more than 2,000 youth. The survey reported that over 20% of youth between ages 13 and 19 said that the rape scene is their favorite part of the Primetime ‘la korn’, and another 20% said that they perceived rape to be a normal and acceptable act in Thai society.
Over 400,000 Thai residents have signed petitions to stop these kinds of scenes in la korn dramas, but many soap opera producers stand in defense against these petitions, claiming that the “rape to love scenes” have nothing to do with encouraging Thai youth to follow such behaviors. One of Thailand’s most famous la korn producers even said that the scenes are absolutely necessary to the plot and removing them would mean losing viewers. As a result of this, there has not been a strong commitment from TV producers to change, and the dramas containing “rape then love” scenes continue to be aired.
As an educator who is concerned about the future of Thailand’s youth, I urge all of us to join in the effort to help shift the perception of the relationship between violence, rape and love. We should carry the message that any form of sexual abuse or violence should in no way equate to love. These types of acts are brutal atrocities, often times causing terrible and long-lasting trauma for the victim.
It’s time to stop romanticizing sexual violence and instead create a more realistic perception about interpersonal abuse. I hope we can all work together to achieve this goal. As a teacher and youth development worker in the community that you serve you can join us to:
- Integrate the topic as part of your life-skills, gender norms and gender based violence session
- Work closely with Thai teachers to improve the schools environment by addressing gender norms and gender based violence issue
- Join GLOW/BRO camps or youth empowerment camps to train teachers and youth leaders on issues of gender norms, gender-based violence, girls’ leadership and empowerment
- Foster long term impact by continue these activity and ensure you address the issue in club hours in schools
You can help to make things right for the next generation.