Lunlabelle case unmasks dark secret in Thai society
As investigators probe the death of young model-for-hire Thitima Noraphanpiphat, more is being revealed about the murky world of this service industry, including illicit drug use and commercial sex.
Different people have different perceptions about the woman and her fate.
Thitima, who used the professional name Lunlabelle, was hired to entertain guests at a party in Bang Bua Thong on Monday last week. There she met a young male model named Rachadech Wongtabutr.
Eyewitnesses and security footage indicate she drank heavily before Rachadech took her back to his condo in Thon Buri, where she was found dead in the lobby early next morning.
Police arrested Rachadech on three charges relating to her death, and sought arrest warrants for six others, including the house owner, after another model filed separate sexual abuse charges.
Alcohol poisoning was determined as the cause of the model's death. Preliminary results of the autopsy found her blood/alcohol concentration was 418 milligrammes per 100 millilitres. The results did not indicate the presence of other intoxicants, and the model's family has demanded a second autopsy.
The Lunlabelle case has gripped the nation. But admit it, the "Bang Bua Thong party" is nothing new. Such gatherings have become trendy among drug users.
The venue for the party is typical of ordinary-looking houses where drugs such as methamphetamine or ya ba, as well as recreational sedatives known as liquid ecstasy, Liquid X or Blue Verve, are available on a daily basis.
Gangster-types frequent such places, which are scattered in the outskirts of Bangkok, in order to stay under the radar of the law. Some double as small restaurants or pubs so as not to attract the attention of authorities. It's also an open secret that the very same authorities often have a hand in these illicit businesses, enabling the gangsters to operate.
And it's not only illicit drugs that are found in such places. Also well known is that some of the models hired for such parties sell sex. Some do it intentionally, but other young women are lured into illicit acts through blackmail or the use of drugs.
"Hired model" has become a popular job among young, attractive women and men because it's seen as easy work with good pay. The so-called pretties can earn thousands of baht pouring drinks and chatting with clients for just three or four hours. And pretties who agree to take more risky jobs that involve drugs and/or sex can make many times that amount.
Reports indicate that pretties are often well educated and from relatively well-off families, but are forced into the "grey" business because they cannot make ends meet with conventional jobs. Some may not want to be involved in drugs or sex, but fall victim to pressure from gangsters who frequent this murky world.
Rights and gender equality advocates say women who work in this service industry frequently face abuse and harassment from customers and employers. This includes unwelcome sexual advances, but also pressure to drink excessive amounts of alcohol to please customers.
The Bang Bua Thong party is said to have hired several pretties for round-the-clock service. The practice is not unusual.
It would be wrong to regard the death of Lunlabelle as an individual case, or an ordinary crime in which a woman died from consuming too much alcohol. Instead her death has revealed a serious social problem whose solution will require stringent efforts from all parties involved. Tough action is needed to eradicate this dark corner from our society.
Nauvarat Suksamran is an assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.