Most visitors and residents to Thailand through the 1980s and much of the 1990s were blissfully unaware of the extent of serious crime in the Kingdom.
Thais themselves of most social strata, due to relatively high literacy and the prevalence of television, were always quite well aware of the extent of crime. The ghoulish, gaudy and gory nature of Thai reporting was and continues to be graphic and shocking especially for many westerners. But it is a staple diet as much as nam phrik or pla tuu for most Thais hungry for sensationalism.
But in those more innocent days at the start of the boom in Thai tourism it would have seemed to many without access or interest in Thai language newspapers, magazines and television that all was reasonably well in the country.
For me personally I had always had a great personal interest in crime and had come to Thailand originally on the back of being a reporter in the United Kingdom. From a formative age I had mixed with police and been aware of criminals and their actions from courts to newsrooms since I left school.
Some years later when I left the UK and began to learn the Thai language it was quite natural for me to practice reading the local language by doing something that interested me; that in 1985 was by reading Thai crime magazines, easily available on any newsstand for just a few baht.
Having so many felt vaguely voyeuristic perhaps akin to the fascination some youth have with pornography. But it was compelling and illuminating and put an entirely different spin on the image presented through the English language media whether they intended that or not.
Sure, there was plenty of anecdotal stories of crime amongst colleagues and friends but if such events did not directly impact on family and those same friends, they could be somewhat easily dismissed.
Then came the internet.
Unfortunately the rise of online reporting has not cleared up the picture though it has brought a greater amount of Thai crime to a greater number of people. While the number of foreigners residing in Thailand who have Thai language skills sufficient to give them real and meaningful, as well as “pleasurable” access to Thai crime is still low, the internet with its translators is enabling an ever greater access to crime and its consequences in the Kingdom for non-Thais.
Indeed some news organisations are making a conscious effort to increase their reporting of Thai crime. It would be easy to criticise as clickbait but the stories are of great interest to a great many of the Thai public so why should that not be of interest to the foreign community either residing in the country or following events from abroad. Are we really so different?
This spread of Thai crime in the news has many posters on Thai news sites feeling that violent crime in general is on the increase. They may well be right but it will always depend on who is doing the reporting and who you care to believe.
For many older foreigners in particular who never followed Thai news in pre-internet days there appears an explosion of crime. Indeed, an easy Wiki search will seem to confirm their assessments.
“Crime in Thailand is a persistent, growing, complex, internationalised and under-recognised problem,” wiki states with figures from US sources claiming a more than ten percent rise in theft and property crime from 2014-2015 and an 8% rise in violent crime in the same period.
“The interplay of extremely addictive drugs, prostitution,political paralysis, corruption and collusion, a culture of impunity, international tourism and trade, liberal sexual mores, traditional Buddhist tolerance and tendency to ignore problems has led to an increasingly multifaceted and complex crime epidemic in the country. Juvenile delinquency has also been increasing in recent years,” says the website.
Thai academics have pooh-poohed the figures and prefer to weigh in with Royal Thai Police who claim an increase since they were charged with reporting the statistics after the 2014 coup but one that is less than 2% and therefore statistically insignificant.
It is really a question, with no reliable watchdog helping to inform the public, of paying your money and taking your choice as to what to believe when it comes to the true prevalence of and proliferation of many kinds of crime in Thailand.
While officials are only too ready, it would seem, to accept that the country has a severe problem when it comes to death on the roads, authorities have always seemed more tight lipped, surely mindful of the tourist trade, when it comes to the prevalence of crime not just that committed against tourists but that which represents a serious and violent underbelly in Thai society in general.
With high profile cases attracting international attention already, it is probably only a matter of time before the increased reporting of Thai on Thai crime in the English language media and through social networking sites gives Thai authorities more cause for concern about the image of the country.
In terms of image it may well be irrelevant if there is really an explosion of crime in Thailand in the last few years or if it is just a myth. Either way it will seem that there is.
Source: Inspire BKK