ThaiConsent is illustrating consent and rape in Thailand

This article was originally published on Women’s Media Center’s The FBomb, as part of the Young Feminist Media Fellowship between FRIDA and The Fbomb. This article is written by Nany Guerrerx, one of the four fellows who was selected as part of the fellowship. A pilot project launched in 2018, it is an attempt to counter dominant narratives that provide little to no space to achievements and accomplishments of young feminist organizers, this fellowship seeks to give an opportunity to young feminist storytellers to themselves tell the story of young feminist trends around them.

It’s 2019, but our conversations about consent are still largely problematic, from victim blaming to unrealistic stereotypes about assailants and beyond. Feminists all over the world are fighting to shift these conversations toward a more nuanced understanding of consent and the complex power dynamics that exist in all social relationships. ThaiConsent is one organization doing just that.

In 2015, designer and illustrator Wipaphan Wongsawang launched ThaiConsent because she saw a pattern in her community: Many assault survivors wouldn’t turn to resources like police or NGOs because they thought “no one would believe or agree with them,” Wongsawang, who also goes by Nana, told the FBomb. ThaiConsent offers an alternative by creating “a safe space” within which hundreds of people can exchange personal stories that speak to the complicated gray areas of consent about which no one usually talks. In its first month after opening calls for anonymous stories and illustrations, the platform received over 200 stories and over 30 artists volunteered to illustrate those survivors’ stories.

“Thai society’s perception of rape? Narrow,” says Nana. “People consider rape [to be] when the attacker is a complete stranger and the victim a proper woman. An old ‘bad guy’ does bad things to a ‘good woman.’ But when the guy is a regular person and the woman is a regular person or even worse, a ‘bad’ one, no one will care.”

The most crucial, and unique, part of ThaiConsent, however, is that it provides artists with the opportunity to volunteer to create illustrations to accompany survivors’ stories and help the audience engage and relate to them. “Illustration not only catches attention faster than a paragraph, but it also provokes personal emotions that help [an] audience engage and relate,” explains Michelle Yoon, a young illustrator who has contributed to ThaiConsent. “It creates a stronger bond between the stories and the audience.”

“Illustration shifts the perception of people when they think about ‘sexual assaults,’” says Nana. For example, the art featured on ThaiConsent is subtle, according to Nana, because “this is how rape culture is: subtle, quiet, thrilled, and wrapped in secret. Illustration invites people to look closer. It’s not the storyteller’s responsibility to speak louder.”

An illustration that appears on ThaiConsent; Credit: ThaiConsent; illustration by Lily Piyawatin.

Sirada Chitvathananont, who goes by the name of Guinfalls, is a volunteer illustrator at ThaiConsent. Illustrating for ThaiConsent helps her “get through the nightmare” of her experience being a survivor, she told the FBomb, adding, “To have a community where people can share their stories and pain and help each other to overcome the past is a blessing!”

Kitikhun Pan, a third illustrator at ThaiConsent, hopes that whoever comes across their art will better understand the true meaning of the articles they have read. “Illustration does two simple things: It draws the audience to the content, and it helps to relax our audience’s mind from the content intensity.”

The stories are all shared anonymously because doing so, Nana says, saves survivors from potential exploitation. Many survivors worry that if they share their stories through public routes, like the media, they will be exploited because “mainstream media thinks of ‘How do I sell this story?’ instead of ‘How do I care about this person?” according to Nana.

This was illustrated by the media coverage of one case of assault in Thailand in March of 2018. A singer called a taxi to get home after her work in nightclub, and the next day she woke up naked in a motel with no recollection of how she got there. The taxi driver claimed that she was too drunk to tell him where she lived so he took her to the motel. She decided to use media as a way to claim justice and share her case but, sadly, the media conversation ended up revolving around what she was wearing that night, and the singer ended up apologizing for wearing a provocative outfit.

The media portrayal of this case is clear evidence that rape culture — which Nana defines as “a culture that is arrogant enough to read a woman’s mind and interpret it for their own interests without accepting that they did not listen enough” — is alive and well in Thailand. Rape culture “ignore[s] women’s voice[s] and our insecurities,” she adds. “They pretend it’s not their responsibility to listen or to have empathy.”

In 2019, ThaiConsent is working to transform into a formal organization. They currently work with 10 volunteers, who mainly translate and write articles about consent, and have curated and produced exhibitions of survivors’ stories along with their respective illustrations in Thailand and San Francisco. They want to hire full-time staff and be able to pay their writers. (You can support this amazing initiative here.)

“For Thailand as a whole, we have such a long way to go,” says illustrator Kitikhun Pan. “I hope I get to see some changes in my lifetime, so I will keep being optimistic and working on it.”

“I’ve learned that after healing happens, people will have more courage to take a higher risk like the risk of telling their stories in public and the resulting stigma or a loss in court,” Nana concludes. “Many women need to be sure that they have healed before they decide to fight. Memories [of trauma] need healing, regardless of how long ago it happened. It will take time to recover our power, but let’s decide on our own terms. The time will come.”

By Nany Guerrerx.