Sexual violence and the death penalty

Numnual Yapparat

Reports of women being raped regularly appear and reappear in the front pages of the newspapers. Rape is really sad and unacceptable. A recent news item reported that a 13-year-old girl was raped on a train and thrown out of the window. She lost her life. It is appalling news.

People have become angry and demanded that the rapist should be punished by with the death penalty. They claim that the death penalty will reduce rape.

However, their anger could cloud people’s judgement. Will such punishment solve the problem? What will happen to rape victims when rapists are killed? Can we find a solution by focusing on individuals such as rapists and their victims? Would it be better if we looked at the whole picture of what is happening in society? What kind of social norms encourage people to behave like animals? These questions need a sober and rational debate, not frenzied anger.

There is a good example of blaming individuals without fixing the problem. Domestic violence in Thailand is very high. The state and even women’s organisations blame alcohol as the main factor. Their proposal was to “ban drinking”.  This answer is very convenient for both the state and the conservative women’s groups. They do not want to ask difficult questions that challenge the whole system and its institutions. It also opens the door for the state to feed conservative morals into society to promote family values which place all of the responsibility on individuals. People are encouraged to blame themselves or their family members but not the system.

Men are expected to be strong and look after their families. What happens when a man fails to do so? No one wants to be a loser. Men will bully their women partners or their children. The most vulnerable people are likely to be victims in this violent hierarchy. Blaming the individual will never sort out the problem.

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels explained very clear that class and family were the key to understand women oppression. The family emerged alongside private property and the state. Before that, women and men lived in hunter-gatherer societies where they did different but equal work and had an equal say in decision-making. Marx and Engels called this “primitive communism”.

As societies developed, they began to produce a surplus in excess of what they needed to meet their basic needs—something that could be stored and controlled. And the production techniques that created it tended to prioritise men’s labour over women’s for the first time. Once a ruling class developed the men who came to dominate wanted “legitimate” heirs to pass the surplus on to. Control of women and sexual relationships became the key to owning surplus. The family unit developed with an ideology that treats women as second-class citizens and as a form of property to be controlled by men[1].

The ruling class and their institutions are reproducing the sexist ideas against women to maintain the unequal relationship between men and women to benefit their interests. The media promote the image of women as sex objects that can be bought like a commodity. These ideas help legitimate and encourage violence against women.

The Yellow Shirt Manager newspaper is an example of the hypocrisy in Thai society. A few days ago it made a “joke” of encouraging the rape of a pro-democracy transgender person in jail. Yet it condemned the rapist of the 13 year old girl on the train. Yellow Shirt doctors sexually insulted ex-Prime minister Yingluk and threatened to rape her. Yet the conservatives, including many film actors, are calling for the death penalty for rape.

The death penalty solves nothing and is merely a form of barbarity because it murders people in revenge. It influences people to accept violence. There is also no guarantee that rape will be prevented with the death penalty. There is also a history of innocent people being convicted by bias or corrupt courts. It closes the door to finding the root of the problem. The conservative morality will not lead us to the answer because it wants to control and condemn people and it is not interested in equality.

We need to increase women’s rights. But we can only do these things if we have democracy. Opposing violence against women and fighting for democracy are the same thing.

[1] What causes rape? (