BANGKOK – Assaulted with acid by her husband as she slept, Chorlada Tarawan died hours later, refused treatment by a Bangkok hospital as a final indictment of her worth.
Brutalised in life, ignored in her hour of pressing need, Chorlada has galvanised Thailand in death and become a symbol of the pervasive and persistent violence so many Thai women face.
Activists protested with her coffin outside the hospital, and petitioned the health ministry to investigate the hospital’s “moral negligence”.
The husband has been arrested, said police officials, under pressure to act after a surge in grisly stories about male-on-female violence.
“To be abused by her husband, then denied by the hospital shows how we treat abuse victims,” said Jadet Chaowilai, director of advocacy group Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation.
“Everyone failed her. Particularly the society that regards domestic violence as a private matter, and tells women to stay quiet,” he said, ahead of Sunday’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
The statistics make for grim reading.
One in three women around the world has experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their partner, according to the World Health Organization.
Of women who were victims of homicide in 2012, nearly half were killed by intimate partners or family members, it said.
Yet women who experience violence are often blamed and their testimonies doubted, said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of United Nations Women.
“Fear of reprisals, of not being believed, and the stigma borne by the survivor have silenced the voices of millions of survivors of violence and masked the true extent of women’s continued horrific experiences,” she said in a statement.
Across the world, women of all ages endure violence despite legislation to prevent it. Male-dominated societies and deep-rooted traditions are often blamed – whatever the cause, the same pattern of degradation repeats.
In Mauritania, violence against women is seen as an act of love and an accepted practice among some ethnic groups.
In Britain, the government has proposed new measures including electronic monitoring devices for abusers to tackle the “silent national health epidemic” of domestic abuse.
Russia last year eased some penalties for domestic violence, while a long-awaited law in Morocco does not go far enough to protect women from abuse, activists say.
In Thailand, the Domestic Violence Victim Act was enacted in 2007, vowing harsher punishments for abusers and better protection for women.
But this has not proved a major deterrent, as few cases are reported, said Busayapa Srisompong, a lawyer and founder of a non-profit that helps victims of domestic abuse.
Busayapa, herself a survivor of domestic violence, said even she had struggled to file her complaint, with the police advising her to “go back and work things out”.
She persisted and won her case, but that is rare.
“Domestic violence has been normalised and justified for so long that even the few women who dare to speak up and go to the police are discouraged from filing a report,” she said.
“Even in court, the prosecutor will often tell the victim to go back to her husband for the sake of the family. Imagine the effect it has on a traumatised woman,” she said.
There is scant official Thai data on violence against women.
A survey of about 2,500 Thai women in four provinces showed one in six women faced intimate partner violence, according to a study by researcher Montakarn Chuemchit at the Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, published earlier this year.
But nearly 90 percent of rape cases go unreported, according to a study published last year by U.N. Women.
Local media have carried a slew of stories detailing graphic attacks on women, a phenomenom that appears to be on the rise.
Earlier this week, a man was arrested for killing his pregnant wife and mutilating her body.
In June, a man confessed he had beaten his ex-girlfriend with a hammer, then cut her body into pieces and disposed of them in a wooded part of Bangkok.
The same month, two men separately shot their ex-girlfriends to death in public.
One man beat his girlfriend live on Facebook.
In another case that made headlines, a man sued his ex-girlfriend for defamation after she wrote on social media that she had suffered abuse. She did not name her abuser, yet the man sued her in a provincial court.
His lawyer told the judge that domestic violence was “a private matter,” said Busayapa, who represented the woman.
As the woman struggled to pay mounting bills, Busayapa set up a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to help her, garnering about $1,500.
The man dropped the case a few weeks later.
“Despite the difficulty of going to a distant court, we pursued the case – for her sake, and to show other victims that domestic violence is not a private matter, and that we are not to blame,” Busayapa told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The Thai police cadet academy’s decision to admit only male candidates from next year could discourage reporting of sexual assaults and domestic violence, she said.
Be it #MeToo or #TimesUp, #BalanceTonPorc or #HollaBack!, global movements this past year have encouraged women from the United States to India to speak up and speak out.
They have had little effect in Thailand, despite local efforts to highlight the crisis and force some sort of progress.
Model and television host Cindy Bishop earlier this year curated an exhibition in Bangkok of clothes worn by girls and women when they were sexually assaulted to highlight victim shaming.
Last week, she launched a campaign to encourage women to shed traditions that encourage them to keep quiet about abuse.
“There are several sayings in Thai about keeping family issues private, and how quarrels between a husband and wife are normal. But violence is not normal or a private matter,” she said.
“The law alone is not enough. It will take a massive, combined effort by men and women to change how we think and act towards women.”
By Rina Chandran– Reuters