Power and the Reporting of Sex Scandals

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Andrew at Heidi Klum’s ‘kinky sex’ Halloween party. Photograph: SplashNews.com (via The Guardian)

This post is not about Thailand in particular but about how sex scandals are reported. It has to do with Thailand because the king is involved in many of them, and there are parallels to what is happening in the U.S. and with another monarchy, U.K.

While predators absolutely need to be called out, and the survivors coming forward are brave for doing so, these women become forever defined by the sex scandal they were in. Years after it happens, they are still described as the woman “who appeared in the nude video” or the victim “who accused _____ of rape.”

Describing them that way reduces them to a person who had sex with a powerful man. It adds to public shaming and doesn’t take into account their life outside of the sex scandal and whether there was consent.

This isn’t only about high-profile cases. Revenge porn or “non-consensual pornography” happen to ordinary people, so it matters how people continue to talk about it. Sex and power are inextricably linked, so we need to ask questions to get the full story.

  • Does mentioning sex add to understanding of the situation?
  • Besides sex, are we talking about power dynamics and roles?
  • Where is the scandal coming from? (Why are we talking about it now?)
  • How are we describing the perpetrator?
  • Is there any mention of consent? Not knowing matters.

Here are some examples of sex scandals in the U.S. and Thailand, and the problematic ways they’ve been reported.

Ex-Princess Srirasmi (Thailand)

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bx2f2HsgMXA/

Princess Srirasmi (ser-rat-sam-ee) is the third wife of Vajiralongkorn and they married in 2001. He divorced her in 2014 and she has been put in house arrest since then. Her family was accused of lese majesty and put in jail. For a while, it wasn’t known whether she was alive.

The Scandal: At a birthday party, she was only wearing a thong and her then-husband, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, made her crawl on the ground and eat out of a dog bowl.

Vajiralongkorn has also posted explicit photos of him and his wives and mistresses in the palace, which have been leaked by staff.

Why it’s problematic: A video of the party has, of course, been viewed millions of times. Most mentions of Srirasmi include the party video, but doesn’t explicitly talk about consent. It might go without saying that he forced her to be naked, but it disturbs me that it’s often not said at all.

Anti-royalists (and royalists who back Sirindhorn) use the video as evidence that Vajiralongkorn is unsuitable to be king, which makes Srirasmi a pawn in politics. In addition, the video makes it so that people would never take Srirasmi as a queen seriously, despite how well she fulfilled her role as princess. Being with Vajiralongkorn is a lose-lose situation for the woman involved.

There is no consent when it comes to the king. Whether they go along with his sexual exploits OR displease him by exercising any kind of action, he ruins their lives.

If an article is going to identify Srirasmi by the video, it also needs to mention  Vajiralongkorn and his history as a sexual predator.

Ex-Representative Katie Hill (United States)

https://www.instagram.com/p/B25RWl2AT_n/

Katie Kill was a representative in Santa Clarita, California. She resigned from her role in October 2019, following an “alleged relationship with the House staff member.” She acknowledged a relationship with a member of her campaign staff “during the final tumultuous years of [her] abusive marriage.”

The Scandal: Her ex-husband released nude pictures of her. She had relationships with two staffers.

Under new #MeToo-inspired House rules, that’s not allowed. It’s also just wrong for a boss to engage in a relationship with a subordinate, no matter the genders of those involved.

Why it’s problematic: Powerful men pressuring their subordinates into sex is nothing new, even if calling them out on it is. The irony of a first-year representative resigning for having relationships with staffers as well as being a victim of revenge porn, while the president and a Supreme Court justice, who are known rapists, are still in their jobs, is not lost on anyone.

It’s problematic because people who hold themselves accountable would remove themselves from positions of power, while abusers, especially men, would not. As progressive as #MeToo is, it’s applied much more harshly to women than men. Even in the best case scenario where a claim is verified, the abuser still seems to be able to remain in their positions of power or return to it. Consequences are minimal.

The bottom line is that sex scandals don’t end powerful men’s careers.

Prince Andrew (United Kingdom)

https://www.instagram.com/p/B4_6z23nQhi/

Prince Andrew, 59, is the Queen’s third child.

The Scandal: Prince Andrew is implicated in the sex trafficking ring, run by Jeffrey Epstein. His wealthy friend procured underage girls for him to have sex with.

Why it’s problematic: Do members of the royal family go to jail? What happens when a prince is involved in sex trafficking? Even though it’s an open secret that many powerful men across countries and industries benefited from Jeffrey Epstein, they are somehow still shielded from it. Except that shield is starting to thin.

In the most recent interview, Prince Andrew told the BBC that:

“There’s a slight problem with the sweating because I have a peculiar medical condition which is that I didn’t sweat at the time. I didn’t sweat at the time because I had suffered what I would describe as an overdose of adrenaline in the Falklands War when I was shot at.”

Andrew added he is now able to sweat again.

Conclusion

As you can see, women can never emerge from a sex scandal unscathed. It doesn’t really matter whether they are the victim or perpetrator; when a woman is known to have sex (and she isn’t supposed to), it can literally destroy her life.

Even when they ARE supposed to have sex (aka being married), their (ex) spouses can still punish them for it by leaking photos and videos when they decide they are displeased. Sex scandals don’t follow the person releasing nudes.

To take this lose-lose situation further: when you are the spouse whose partner is in a sex scandal, or the child of an abuser, you still suffer. See Brett Kavanaugh’s wife and daughters.

  • Victim = your reputation is ruined
  • Perpetrator = punished for your misconduct
  • Bystander (spouse / child) = you’re shamed

Even when a woman does everything right, there is really no way to win against powerful men. This seems true worldwide.

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