E08em01 2ITK Podcast – Emma Talks about Her Sexual Assault in Thailand
This is Episode 8 of “Two Ladies in the Kingdom,” the podcast Emma and I usually do together. We’re trying something a little different by also adding “solo casts” – episode 7 is just me solocasting livestream in the car back from Chiang Mai, fielding questions from readers – and this is Emma’s first in our new endeavor. We will still be podcasting together, but we’re looking into adding new things. This should allow us to podcast more frequently as well.
When women from outside of the Southeast Asian culture come here to train in the gyms of Thailand, there are aspects of social and political culture which do need to be considered. This isn’t meant to scare anybody, this is a fact of traveling anywhere in the world; however, dissimilarities in culture can seem very small but have very large complications. For women who travel alone, knowing even a little bit about these dissimilarities and complications can help in navigating them a great deal – but keep in mind that there’s no fail-safe and there’s no fault. One of the great difficulties is the assumption that men will behave according to their own cultural limitations and manners, that what you witness is “normal” or “acceptable” behavior according to the local culture. Very often that’s true, but often it’s not – as you are an outsider and foreigner, men can feel more at liberty to behave outside of their cultural expectations because you aren’t part of the fabric of local culture that will hold him to those codes. Adding to this confusion, some of these behaviors which are transgressive to the local culture are actually quite common and familiar to western culture, so they may not be seen as red flags. Again, being aware of these things isn’t fail-safe and falling into a miscommunication isn’t your fault. But more awareness is always better.
This episode touches on some broader topics on the cultural attitudes about sexual assault in Thailand, which Emma has covered in her blog and Under the Ropes page. Some of those larger scope issues have helped Emma to recognize and dissect aspects of her own experience, which she discusses in this podcast. But mostly this episode is about Emma’s personal experience with sexual assault, something that she’s hesitated to talk about publicly for years since the events took place. Emma and I talk a lot about these things, woman to woman and as friends, but I’ve actually never heard the details until listening to this podcast, which was recorded when she could be alone in her apartment – sitting in solitude to speak into the world is no easy thing. And it wasn’t easy for me to listen to, honestly. Not because I worry for Emma and quite frankly she’s one of the most composed and “can watch out for my damn self” individuals I know, but rather because rape and sexual assault are horrid experiences that are horrid to listen to because they’re real. Because they happen to a large number of us, including those of us who are informed and cautious and can watch out for ourselves, and when it happens to us we don’t talk about it. Emma does an incredible job of exploring why we don’t talk about it, about our own experiences even though we can talk broadly about the epidemic of rape in the world. A collective outrage that shrouds our private guilt or shame or desire to just put it away.
This brave podcast I believe will mean a lot to women around the world. I have personally heard from numerous women who have experienced sexual assault and manipulation at their gyms in different countries – women who have worked at Rape Crisis centers and “should know” how to be strong, how to identify dangers and seek help when they need it, as well as women who think that they are utterly alone in their experience because nobody talks about it. Not only does this podcast bring a voice to countless voiceless women who have similar experiences, but because of Emma’s thorough honesty in telling her story there are numerous aspects to be considered: rape in your own culture is both similar to and entirely dissimilar to rape in a strange culture. In her experience, Emma was both very alone as the only woman at her gym, but she also had a group of western men at the gym to whom she confided and from whom she received a modicum of care – but due to the fact that sexual aggression and assault are global, there is no actual “the bad guy is out there and we’re all good guys in here,” situation. In Emma’s very accurate assessment, “everyone was a dick.” Emma chooses not to identify persons or the gym, which is understandable but also somewhat necessary in Thailand due to laws surrounding posting public accusations. There are also pretty ridiculous legal definitions of rape here, which is one of those things that makes it very difficult to get legal help both here and in countless countries around the world.
You can read more about some of these complications in Emma’s Blog Post on Rape Culture in Thailand. I personally found that my own telling of my own rape was meaningful to a much larger number of persons (both men and women) than I’d expected, and while I certainly had a hard time speaking publicly about an experience I’d held secret for many, many years, the knowledge that I must not be alone brought me courage to hit the publish button. And I’m grateful I did. You can read that here: What is Violence: Fighting or Silence? There are countless reasons, very understandable and self-preserving reasons, that women never speak out about their experiences with rape and sexual assault. But for every one of those countless reasons to stay quiet there is one, only one, reason to speak out and that reason is greater than all the others: because it is happening. Present tense.
Further, Emma and I have created a space within the Muay Thai Roundtable that is Women-Only, in order to offer a semi-private space for women to speak to other women about whatever topics and issues are often left silent in public fora. Women can sign up for The Women Only Section of the Muay Thai Roundtable – with anonymous group posting capabilities – (become a member).
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