What You Can Learn from the Koh Tao Murders
The investigation into the brutal murders of two young British backpackers on a paradise island in Thailand, a country that I call home for now, has been dominating the headlines in local English publications for the past month and questions have been raised about tourist safety here in the Kingdom.
Thai officials handling the case have fallen under intense scrutiny as reports of scapegoating, evidence tampering, and falsified statements have come to the surface during the investigation into the murders.
Royal Thai Police say Hannah Witheridge and David Miller were bludgeoned to death after a night out on Koh Tao – a popular backpacker island in the south of Thailand famous for its coral reefs and diving scene.
Miller, 24, was struck on the back of the head and left in the surf to drown before Witheridge was raped by two men and killed. The victims’ bodies were found naked with gruesome head wounds.
There are claims that the investigation has been handled poorly because it’s alleged that the island was not secured sufficiently and effectively, evidence was not collected and handled properly, and insensitive statements about tourist safety were made in which partial blame was cast on the victims – leading many to remain skeptical over the legitimacy of the investigation.
Prime Minister and Head of the National Council for Peace and Order Prayuth Chan-ocha suggested the behavior of the victims is to blame for the crime and beautiful tourists wearing bikinis are more vulnerable to attacks.
This is something that could have happened anywhere and to anyone, and it just so happened to take place on a beautiful exotic island in Thailand to an attractive young pair after a night out.
“There are always problems with tourist safety. They think our country is beautiful and is safe so they can do whatever they want, they can wear bikinis and walk everywhere. Can they be safe in bikinis… unless they are not beautiful?” he said to government officials during a speech broadcast live on television.
Following a wave of outrage he has since apologized for his remark.
As of now two Burmese migrant workers, who were working at a nearby bar, confessed and have been charged with the murders of the young British tourists, but have since recanted their confessions. The accused, Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin, claim they only confessed after being beaten and threatened with electrocution by police during interrogations, which police have emphatically denied.
Frustration and uncertainty is looming for those involved in or following the investigation, trust in the justice system is dim, and tourism may suffer.
This entire case is frustrating, horribly saddening, and overall appalling. However, it acts as a reminder that we, women travelers, are not invisible. This is something that could have happened anywhere and to anyone, and it just so happened to take place on a beautiful exotic island in Thailand to an attractive young pair after a night out.
We can, however, prepare ourselves to be safe and knowledgeable about the happenings of the country we are in.
Travel is exciting, but it can be distracting. So, we must always remember to be alert, cautious of our surroundings, and mindful of who we interact with and how we do so.
This case may leave some feeling uneasy about traveling. I myself was having issues with traveling to an island soon after the Koh Tao murders, even though I have been living in Thailand for more than two years. But, I try to remember that we can’t plan when or where things, even horrible, happen. We can, however, prepare ourselves to be safe and knowledgeable about the happenings of the country we are in.
Carry protection with you; maybe pepper spray or some other kind of small personal defense weapon that can be with you at all times. Avoid walking alone at night. Try not to engage in PDA. Overall, be mindful and cautious.
My heart goes out to the victims, Hannah and David, and their families and friends. I relate to their wanderlust and it’s painful that their journeys ended too soon.
The world can be a scary place, but remember it’s also amazing, exciting, and fascinating and there are endless people to meet, foods to eat, and places to explore. If you have a desire to travel, you should never stop.