Activists are calling for more gender equality within the force pointing to criminal cases involving the sexual abuse and exploitation of women which are a growing proportion of Thailand’s criminal offences and are often linked or intertwined with drug abuse. A story of a 13-year old young Muslim girl who took her own life in the Ramkhamhaeng area of Bangkok in 2019 highlights the need for more of a woman’s touch within the country’s large police force.
Thailand has appointed its first senior police officer in charge of investigations in Surat Thani province this week. The new officer will take on the role of deputy superintendent at a local police station and follows the appointment in 2019 of the kingdom’s first female police superintendent in Bangkok. However, it is coming at a time when the recruitment of women to the force is lagging amid huge demand to enter the ranks from unemployed graduates who cannot find work in the ongoing COVID-19 economy which has yet to recover its momentum to pre-pandemic levels.
The Royal Thai Police has appointed its first deputy superintendent working on criminal investigations. Police Lieutenant Colonel Sophit Phitsaphan took up her role at Ban Ta Khun Police Station in southern Thailand’s Surat Thani province this week.
The young woman who previously worked as a drug use prevention officer in the force from 2015 is also a qualified teacher and in her previous role used these skills to reach out to younger people and students to encourage them to avoid illicit narcotics.
Responsible for supervising an investigative team of six or seven officers at Ban Ta Khun Police Station
Police Lieutenant Colonel Sophit will be responsible for supervising a six to seven-man team working on criminal investigations. She is the first woman to be assigned such a role in the kingdom.
Her elevation comes two years after Police Colonel Pawina Ekchat became the first Royal Thai Police Superintendent at Talat Phlu police station in Bangkok after thirty years of service following her switch from being a nurse at Police General Hospital in the capital city.
The appointment in 2019 came after years of encouragement by her immediate superior in the force who nominated her for promotion.
Rights activists calling for more women in the force with only 7 to 8% of its 230,000 officers female
Rights activists in Thailand have long called for more women in the Royal Thai Police despite a limit being placed on female recruitment in recent years and with only 8% of a force of over 230,000 officers reported to be women. Some reports even suggest that this figure may have fallen, in recent years, to 7%.
The reason for the need for more police officers in Thailand and gender equality in the force, as advocated by campaigners, is the nature of crimes in the kingdom particularly concerned with the investigation of offences linked with drug use and the exploitation of vulnerable women.
Such crimes often require, for cultural and indeed for reasons prescribed in the legal statutes, a female police officer who can build a better rapport with the abused person.
The nature of some crimes involving physical assaults and abuse of women often necessitates interaction with female officers.
A case that stands out in Thailand as one where there was the need for female investigators is one that eventually led to the suicide of a young Muslim girl in Bangkok in November 2019.
Tragic suicide of a young Muslim girl in Bangkok highlights the need for female officers in the force
The young girl, named by police only as ‘Pinkie,’ was a 13-year-old Muslim who was living with her single mother in the Suan Luang area of the city.
She had gotten involved with a gang of young men peddling drugs on a small-time basis near the canal of the busy metropolitan district.
The young men, later in a group of six, are believed by police to have abducted ‘Pinkie’ and kept her for 2 or 3 days at a ramshackle canal house in the city where she was abused.
Tragedy of a 13-year-old Muslim girl who died on Friday in Bangkok shows the need for more women police
When the men were arrested in a drugs raid the young girl was caught up in the police operation and sent to a medical facility by officers as part of a probe into her claims of abuse at the hands of the men. She was later given medication at the hospital.
Could not explain the situation convincingly to her mother due to the circumstances of her abuse which was linked to the illicit drugs raid which rescued her
However, when the 13-year-old returned to her home in a tower block in Bangkok’s Ramkhamhaeng area she couldn’t explain her ordeal to her mother.
The pair had a row as ‘Pimkie’ recalled her compromised position at the time of the raid which police appeared to be treating, at least at the outset, as a drugs raid even though a case had been opened promptly into her claims of abuse.
Neighbours had heard reports of a drug raid and the criminal gang involved.
Two men were later arrested on court warrants for illegal detention and the abuse of a minor in connection with the case.
The argument led to the young girl taking her life from the 12th floor of the building just seconds before her frightened mother, suddenly apprehending the situation, had run to the top of the building after having had a change of heart. It was too late.
First female superintendent in Bangkok in 2019 said her previous role as a nurse at Police General Hospital helped her to be a better officer dealing with victims
The case highlights the need for a woman’s touch which was emphasised two years ago by Police Colonel Pawina Ekchat when she affirmed that her former role as a nurse had helped her to be a better police officer.
‘I’d met so many police officers during my time nursing that I thought I might be good at the job and enjoy the life. But I’ve never forgotten the knowledge and skills I picked up during my time as a nurse,’ Police Colonel Pawina explained two years ago. ‘This skill is particularly useful during interrogations where I need to find out key details from the victims of serious crimes.’
Huge demand for positions within the Royal Thai Police from college graduates seeking work right now
With a huge demand for entry into the limited ranks of the Royal Thai Police in the last two years due to the tight economic situation caused by the pandemic, the recruitment of more women is not being looked at as a priority.
Many of those currently sitting examinations for positions are university graduates who must still score within the top twentieth percentile to have a chance of being accepted.
In 2018, the then Chief of the Royal Thai Police, General Chakthip Chaijinda confirmed a move to block the recruitment of women by the Royal Police Cadet Academy (RPCA) and the transfer of 280 already enrolled female cadets from the institution.
Women barred from police cadet school in 2018
The reason given was the eligible candidates had to be members of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School where they are expected to study for three years and which does not enrol women.
Part of the justification for the ban put forward at the time was that training of female police officers was not cost-effective as their role in the force was limited to acting as inquiry officers.
The decision caused widespread criticism of the government’s commitment to gender equality.
Women can still be recruited by the Royal Thai Police once they have an approved university bachelor’s degree, pass a screening process and attend a 6 months training programme.
New deputy police superintendent says she was leading a team effort in her new role, not a solo run
Back in Surat Thani province, Police Lieutenant Colonel Sophin says she is looking forward to working with her colleagues in the investigations unit she will lead as a team effort and not a solo run.
The young woman has already won awards for her drug prevention work in the force and has arrived at her new post with a good reputation.
Her new rank places her on the 5th level of command for commissioned police officers with the 10th being the rank of General reserved for such figures as the National Police Commissioner, General Suwat Jangyodsuk.
Commander of Police Region 8 expresses confidence in his new officer who he says will bring valuable knowledge to the leadership role in Surat Thani
Her superior, Police Lieutenant General Amphol Buarabporn, the Commander of Provincial Police Region 8 headquartered in Phuket, said that Police Lieutenant Colonel Sophit has the qualifications to do the job and he was not in favour of discriminating between male and female police officers.
He said while he had not met the new officer, he had been told that the force, at a senior level, believed she had the skills and capability to carry out the role.
He noted that Police Lieutenant Colonel Sophit had a good understanding of the law.
‘She will perform her duties as assigned to her to the highest standard. Now we have a senior officer who can give valuable advice especially on the law which she has studied together with her knowledge and she is prepared to work in this field.’
Police Lieutenant General said that the new topflight female officer will have the support of her team who will be engaged in detection and bringing evidence to light in cases.
He pointed out that the arrest of criminals was not simply about going out and apprehending culprits but was the product of patient detective and investigative work which Police Lieutenant Colonel Sophit will be coordinating.