Police in Thailand are investigating the alleged gang rape of a 14-year-old student last year.
The victim from Koh Raed, a small island in Thailand’s Phang Nga province, first reported the sexual assaults in March, the province’s deputy governor Eggarat Leesen told CNN on Thursday.
The girl told authorities she was attacked multiple times between May and December of 2016, leading the attorney general of Phang Nga province to indict three suspects, who have since been released on bail.
Leesen said that in subsequent interviews since her initial report, the victim claimed that up to 40 men were involved in the series of rapes. He added that not all suspected attackers were believed to be from Koh Raed, making it harder for authorities to investigate.
Police Maj. Gen. Boonthawee Torraksa told CNN that Phang Nga’s provincial police force is overseeing the investigation. He declined to comment on the number of additional suspects the probe is pursuing, citing the sensitivity of the ongoing investigation, but said he did not think there would be 40.
According to The Nation, a local newspaper, the victim’s parents work at night tapping rubber trees, which would often leave the girl, who is now 15, alone at home when the rapes allegedly occurred.
“The complaint states that the girl was first raped by an assailant at her home, then subsequently forced to go to huts in the area where she was drugged and gang raped by multiple perpetrators,” it reported.
Koh Raed is a small and close-knit community with a little more than 100 residents, Leesen said, who mostly work as rubber tappers and fish farmers or on fishing trawlers.
Leesen said many of the residents have expressed shock at the allegations because the area is small and those living there consider their neighbors to be extended family. Many of the villagers are related to men accused by the victim of being involved in her rape, according to Leesen.
“Local residents are having stress from various degrees, depending on how the case affects them,” Leesen said. “Many of the residents said they don’t believe this could happen. Since the village is small, if something happened they should have known.”
The girl’s family relocated from Koh Raed on August 4 over concerns for their safety. Following reports of threats and harassment the family is now under police protection, according to Torraksa.
“I will make sure every culprit will have to serve their crime and I will make sure [we] receive justice for both sides,” Torraksa said.