New ‘Survival Guide’ Helps Thai Students Fight Sexual Harassment and Abuse of Power

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Members of a group called “Bad Student” have been guarding high school entrances and handing out “survival guides for students” as part of a campaign launched on November 12. Our observer, who lives in Bangkok, says the youth group wants to help students navigate the authoritarian culture in Thai schools, which he says creates an environment that promotes sexual and physical violence.

From knowing your rights to knowing who to talk to if you are bullied, this new “survival guide for students” is packed with information on how to navigate difficult and rarely addressed issues within schools.

The guide, which also contains information on how to organize protests and share messages on social media, was produced by a group called Bad Student, made up of young Thais who have already distributed more than 4,000 copies in various schools.

Members of the Bad Student group pass out manuals in front of a high school in Bangkok that is known to have a strict dress code. The school conducts inspections of student hairstyles. The students at the school asked the group to distribute their manuals.

‘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 on the streets of Bangkok for the past 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 that strict dress codes, including rules on student hair, are one of the first steps toward an authoritarian culture within schools:

If you come to Thailand, you will see many students with shaved heads or very short hair. The teachers cut these students’ hair because they did not follow the school’s hair codes. Teachers believe they have a right to do this.

There have even been a few instances of teachers deciding that a girl’s skirt is too short and using scissors to destroy it so that she cannot wear it again.

In some schools, children who are not in uniform are forced to drag their fingernails along the wall.

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

Bad Student members say that strict dress codes are a kind of entry point into an educational institution’s perception of a student’s body. So there is a lot of information in the guide on 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 security.

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

>> Read more at The Observers: In Thailand, protesting students take a page from the Harry Potter and the Hunger Games books

In recent years, there have been a number of high-profile cases in Thailand involving harassment, sexual or otherwise, of students. Most of the cases that we know of were revealed on social media, but 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 footage may be disturbing to some viewers.)

Then, in May 2020, five school teachers were arrested and charged with repeatedly raping a 14- and 16-year-old female student. Bad Student says these cases are just the tip of the iceberg because 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 happened. This kind of thing happens all the time. Because the school thinks that if sexual harassment goes public, the school will lose its reputation. Sometimes they 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 by a staff member.

The Thai school system considers teachers to be almost like parents. They stay up late to check on the students and make sure they get home safely. Ban says that he respects some of his teachers, but that it is difficult to open up to them.

In this environment, student associations and social networks play a fundamental role.

Students are more likely to open up on social media because they have the ability to remain anonymous. And, in general, when you report an injustice to a teacher, he does not listen. Often a teacher dismisses what a student says. Or they could say, that’s the way it is in this school or in Thailand. And if you can’t accept the rules, then you should leave this school.

Bad Student concludes his survival guide by explaining to students how to create their own groups to bring about change in the Thai school system and how to get their messages out online or in 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 introduces the group’s survival guide. Ban says: “There was a teacher who constantly violated the rights of the students. A student read the manual to the teacher and she suddenly changed her attitude to be more understanding.”

This work is based on our experience. We were all students at one point and we know what students face in school. We have tried to include as much as possible, to think about what might help a self-reliant student. School is supposed to be a safe place for students, but this is not the case in Thailand. So if there is no one to help us, then we have to create our own council.

An excerpt from the school survival guide. © Bad students