They look happy. Tanned, relaxed faces grinning at the camera, elbows resting on a table littered with beer bottles and cocktail glasses: the last known picture of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller. Within hours of the photograph being taken on the Thai island of Koh Tao, 23-year-old Witheridge and 24-year-old Miller were brutally bludgeoned to death.
The grisly murders take the total number of British tourist deaths in Thailand to 13 in the last five years, and yet the country remains a popular destination for backpackers and gap year students, who are enticed by Full Moon parties, sandy white beaches, and glorious tropical sunsets.
Authorities have expressed concern over the impact the murders might be having on tourism, which accounts for nearly 10 per cent of Thailand’s GDP, especially after tourism arrivals in the country fell 11.9 per cent this August compared to the previous year.
In an attempt to restore travellers’ confidence, the country’s tourism minister, Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, has suggested that visitors be distributed with identification wristbands when they arrive, to assist them if they stay out late partying, or if they get lost – or drunk.
On the face of it, the idea appears sensible. If a cheap wristband helps a couple of boozy partygoers stumble home after a night on the tiles, all to the good. But dig a little deeper and the notion of tagging tourists to prevent their murder seems to me to sidle casually (beer bottle in slack hand) past the heart of the problem.
There are a number of reasons why this is an atrocious suggestion, the most glaring of which is the increased risk its introduction could pose for tourists. The motive behind the most recent killings is currently unclear, but the one thing the 13 victims have in common is that they were not local. Is it not slightly risky, therefore, to label a person as such; singling them out as vulnerable, naïve, and in unfamiliar surroundings?
According to Wattanavrangkul, Thailand’s next step would be “some sort of electronic tracking device”, although she has stressed this has not yet been discussed in detail. In the interests of privacy and freedom, I pray it never is. Do we really want to go on holiday only to have our every move monitored?
But worse than that is the fact that the whole idea attributes an element of blame to tourists, implying that it’s their duty to avoid attack, and not the responsibility of the low-lives who seek to ambush them. Although it’s crucial to instil in visitors the awareness that will hopefully keep them safe, coercing them into wrapping identification bracelets around their sunburnt wrists implies it’s their responsibility to make sure they’re not murdered on a beach after too many Tequila Sunrises.
All too often victims are put in a position of culpability, especially where drink is involved. Transport for London recently launched a #HomeSafeSelfie campaign, to encourage young women to publicly announce they’ve got home safe after a night out. Instead of targeting unlicensed minicabs, or men eager to take advantage of susceptible women, the campaign addresses girls directly, asking them to celebrate returning home unscathed. Why not go the extra mile and tell women to avoid alcohol altogether, just to make absolutely sure they aren’t ambushed in a dark alleyway on the way home? Or opt for the whole hog and suggest they just stay at home?
But what of the real perpetrators? What of the monsters determined to end the lives of two young travellers, or to ensure a woman doesn’t make it home safe? All these campaigns lay the heavy burden of responsibility at the victims’ doorsteps with scant attention paid to the real culprits. Maybe the Thai authorities should put more effort into reducing gang-related crime in the country, leaving tourists to enjoy their holiday cocktails threat (and wristband) free.
In pictures: Thailand beach murders
In pictures: Thailand beach murders
1/11 Thailand beach murders
Two Myanmar migrant workers suspected of killing two British tourists participate in a crime re-enactment
2/11 Thailand beach murders
The two suspects (wearing hard hats) during a re-enactment of the alleged crime
3/11 Thailand beach murders
Thai policemen conduct DNA tests on staff from two beachside bars as part of the investigation on the murder of two British tourists on the southern resort island of Koh Tao
4/11 Thailand beach murders
Police chiefs look at a beach near the spot where bodies of two killed British tourists were found on the island of Koh Tao
5/11 Thailand beach murders
Police in Koh Tao said they were liaising with officers in Bangkok to try and detain the second man
6/11 Thailand beach murders
People of Koh Tao offer their prayers
7/11 Thailand beach murders
A Thai villager lays flowers during a memorial service for two murdered British tourists at the crime scene on a beach of Koh Tao resort island
8/11 Thailand beach murders
A police searches for clues near the spot where bodies of two killed British tourists were found, on the island of Koh Tao
9/11 Thailand beach murders
Thai workers carry the bodies of two British tourists on Koh Tao island in the Surat Thani province of southern Thailand
10/11 Thailand beach murders
Hannah Witheridge, 23 was killed on the small island of Koh Tao on 15 Septembe
11/11 Thailand beach murders
David Miller, 24, was killed on the small island of Koh Tao on 15 September
Online abuse can’t be just dismissed
Following the jailing of her Twitter abuser this week, Labour MP Stella Creasy claimed that police struggled to investigate the incident last year because they didn’t know where to begin. This is how online harassment differs from regular, in-your-face abuse. It’s subtle. It’s secretive. It gives the impression of being easy to ignore. It doesn’t cause obvious, physical damage, and all the victim need do to escape the torrent of threats is simply log off, right? Wrong.
If police don’t confront internet abusers head on, more and more users will be targeted. The anonymous assailants of our Twitter feeds thrive on the assumption the authorities won’t take us seriously if we complain. It is up to police to acquire the knowledge necessary to track down internet rogues and hold them accountable. A threat is a threat whether it’s hiding behind a balaclava or behind a computer screen.