Way to go, Thailand! Thursday, the country passed a law that expands the legal definition of rape to include nonconsensual sex within marriage. What's more, the law redefines rape as an act that can be experienced and perpetrated by a man or a woman. (Before, Thai law narrowly defined rape as an act committed by a man against a woman who was not his wife.) Now, rapists can be sentenced to anywhere from four to 20 years in prison.
This is huge. For one, it could shift the sexual power dynamic within marriage. Women's rights activist Usa Lertsrtsanthad told the Associated Press that the old law "implicitly gives husbands a green light to rape their wives with impunity, so this is very good news." But it's also a significant step toward equitable sexual rights for all genders. ''A lot of gay people and transvestites are raped but you don't hear about it because when they report [it] to the police, they get laughed at. This should help change the attitude,'' said Natee Teerarojpong, a gay rights activist.
Of course, the new law doesn't mean rape victims won't still face challenges and stigma. Lertsrtsanthad makes an important point -- though, particularly in light of the new law, I'd add "and men" every time she says "women": "The attitudes of the police, prosecutors and doctors are very important in facilitating the process and making it easier for women to report rape cases. A lot of women still choose to remain silent because they are threatened by the legal process and what may happen to them before the rapists are brought to justice." Legal rights are fundamental; now there's heavy cultural lifting to be done.