This Week in Asia

In Thailand, death of a 'pretty' underscores dangers of life as a hostess

The death of a woman from a suspected drug overdose after a Bangkok party has underscored the risks faced by Thailand's "pretties" - models-for-hire who offer services ranging from making appearances at sales promotion gigs, modelling at motorshows and hosting "VIP" parties, and who at each turn usually entertain male clientele in some form.

The woman, Whitchayaporn Visessombut, known as Wa-Wa, was booked out to a VIP party in a Bangkok suburb late on Monday night and died at a local hospital the next day.

CCTV footage shared on local media showed two unidentified men dropping the 33-year-old at the hospital around 6am, paying 15,000 baht (about US$500) to the cashier at the emergency desk and then leaving. She was declared dead a few hours later.

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Authorities have yet to release the cause of death, but activist lawyer Atchariya Ruangrattanapong, chairman of the Crime Victims Assistance Club, said she had "died from heart failure after consuming a large amount of ketamine and Ecstasy".

Atchariya said members of his organisation had spoken to the other women partygoers who confirmed that one of the men at the party was khon mee si, using the Thai catch-all term for a "man in uniform", although he did not specify whether the uniform was of the police or army.

Atchariya urged the partygoers to turn themselves in, but Thai police played down the likelihood of foul play, and no charges have been filed in the incident.

"As of now ... it's not a criminal case," Police Colonel Prasopchok Iemphinit, chief of the Phahon Yothin police station in Bangkok, told reporters on Thursday, adding that there was "more than one man" at the party and that four women, including Whitchayaporn, had been hired to entertain the men.

"If we find that there's no wrongdoing, this case will be over," he said.

But as shock at the case gained ground, police on Friday searched the party house and collected DNA from the vehicle used to drop Wa-Wa at the hospital, Thai media reported.

Fuelled by Instagram, a vast network of agents and the chance for fame and glamour, the industry is highly competitive, with women often undergoing plastic surgery to enhance their looks to stay in the good graces of their clientele, who are mainly rich, powerful men.

But stories of sexual and physical abuse abound, and Thailand's legal system offers few safeguards for the women involved, instead favouring the powerful and well-connected.

Women hostesses at a bar in Pattaya. Thailand's legal system offers few safeguards for women involved in such jobs. Photo: AFP

"When the clients are influential people, if there's a case of rape, assault or even death, police officers will often give more weight to the clients who hire the pretties because they're of higher status," Supensri Pungkoksung, director of the Social Equality Promotion Foundation, told This Week in Asia.

One pretty who charges around 5,000 baht for a few hours of hostessing said sexual harassment and the pressure to take drugs or drink heavily are commonplace.

"Some pretties who can read the game get themselves out of the situation as fast as they can," said the woman, who would only be identified as "Pink".

"Those who end up in trouble are either forced into [a job] out of desperation for money or for fear of not being hired again."

Wa-Wa's death was not the first time a tragedy befalling a pretty had made headlines.

In September 2019, a pretty named Thitima Noraphanphiphat was found dead in a condo lobby after being called out to a 24-hour party at a home in suburban Bangkok. A toxicology report revealed that she had died of excessive alcohol intake.

Six men who attended the party - including a male model and the owner of the house - were found guilty of a range of offences including the illegal detention of Thitima and illegal assembly, and in October 2020 each was sentenced to a jail term of up to eight years.

All, however, are still free on bail and intend to appeal.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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