Bobbitry: the Thai revenge

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The Independent Online
Weaving through the rush hour traffic astride his Bangkok motorcycle taxi, Parichai Saruwong's pained expression is a sure sign that he is no longer a ladies' man.

At only 33, his days of flirtation are well and truly over, the tragic result of a midnight encounter with his embittered, double-crossed wife. "When she found out about my affair with another woman, at first she was very angry," he recalls, "but after a few days she calmed down and life returned to normal."

Or, so it seemed. But for weeks, Mrs Saruwong quietly plotted her revenge, until one night she sliced off her husband's penis with a meat cleaver. "The pain shot through my body with a rush of blood, and I woke up screaming," he says, his eyes ablaze with revisited agony. Before he could stop her, she had flushed his penis down the toilet.

Many Thai men fear this gruesome fate: penis amputations have become a standard form of retribution by angry women. The phenomenon is well known: five years ago, the world was transfixed by the saga of John Bobbitt in the United States. And occasional cases of spousal attack have been reported in China, Japan and Australia. But in Thailand the problem is an epidemic. Police estimate that more than 100 penises have been severed by angry spouses since the Eighties. They even have a name for the crime: penicide, although charges are rarely pressed against the women who commit it.

"Thai women are deeply frustrated over their situation in this male-dominated society," said Siriporn Skrobawek, director of the Bangkok-based Foundation for Women. "They have little recourse but to take drastic measures, and there is some sympathy here for that."

The man who has to pick up the pieces of the bloody practice is surgeon Dr Surasak Muangsombut, chief of plastic surgery at Bangkok's Siriraj Hospital and a world specialist in the esoteric field of hi-tech micro- surgical "penis replantation".

"I never wanted recognition for my penis work," Dr Surasak said modestly. "I got into the business to do nose jobs, but found myself being sidetracked." Over the years, his team of specialist surgeons have successfully replanted 31 severed penises. The last one Dr Surasak performed himself was on Valentine's Day this year.

The key question is, does the replanted organ work? Dr Surasak says the reluctance of patients to return for monthly check-ups means accurate long-term results are simply unknown. "I would expect far-reaching psychological problems with this surgery, including impotence and acute pain for a considerable period, perhaps affecting the man for the rest of his life."

Parichai Saruwong bears convincing witness to that theory. Swallowing another painkiller, he swings his leg back over his motorbike and settles, carefully, into the saddle. "It has been more than a year now, and still I am not better," he says, "I feel like my life has been snatched away, and I am very angry. All I can think about is revenge."