Thai model arrested in sex assault case that has shocked the nation

Thai event model Thitim Noraphanpiphat, aka Lunlabelle, who was found dead in September 2019. Male model Ratchadech Wongtabut has been implicated in her death. Photo: Instagram. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

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BANGKOK, Sep 26, 2019, AP. Police in Thailand have arrested a model accused of taking an unconscious woman home, boasting online about his sexual exploits, and leaving her lifeless body in the lobby of his building. Ratchadech Wongtabut, 24, was charged with illegal detention leading to death, abduction with intent of committing an indecent act, and molestation, in a case that has riveted the Thai public and press, reported the South China Morning Post.

The victim, Thitima Noraphanpiphat, 25, worked as a “pretty” – a term for young women normally hired as product promoters at events such as auto shows.

Thitima, who used Lunlabelle as her professional name, was hired to attend a party which Ratchadech left with her on the night of September 16.

A media frenzy over the case has been fuelled by Ratchadech’s provocative online posts boasting of past sexual conquests, and copious surveillance video showing him carrying the apparently unconscious victim.

Thitima’s family and boyfriend went to the media to press their case that her death involved wrongdoing and demand the perpetrator be held to account. Ratchadech was initially questioned by police and released without charge after denying any criminal actions.

Metropolitan police commissioner Lt Gen Sutthipong Wongpin said on Wednesday that Ratchadech acknowledged bringing Thitima to his flat but said he had no intention to harm her and did not realise she was dead while she was with him.

Police announced on Tuesday that Thitima may have already been dead by the time Ratchadech brought her back to his flat.

An autopsy found Thitima had died from extreme alcohol intoxication, citing a blood alcohol concentration of 418 milligrams per 100 millilitres, police said on Wednesday.

There had been speculation Thitima was given a date rape drug such as GHB. But the drug rapidly disappears from the blood stream, making its presence difficult to confirm. Thai media cited police as saying none had been found in Ratchadech’s flat.

Police are investigating others who may be involved in the affair, especially the owner and guests at the house where Thitima attended the party before she died.

Her death has raised interest in the dark side of the life of a “pretty”, when they can get into situations they cannot control.

Jaded Chouwilai, director of the Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation, said the case reflects the high risk of abuse, both sexual and nonsexual, endured by women in that specialised service sector.
The foundation has studied the cases of young women working as sales promoters at beer drinking outlets nationwide, including pop-up booths.

It found that all suffered some manner of abuse: being forced to drink large amounts of alcoholic beverages, molestation and other physical and verbal attacks.

“In the case of Lunlabelle, it happened in a private place and she was there all by herself and heavily drunk. Therefore, her risk of being attacked was much higher,” Jaded said.

Jaded said stereotyping and discrimination against this group of workers meant they drew little sympathy from the government and society at large.

“They need protection from being abused, just like other workers,” he said.

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