Asia-Pacific

Areewan Jatuthong

Advice on Women’s Rights

She was crowned a beauty, she married a beast, and now she is Thailand’s counselor to the lovelorn, the confused, and the unsure. Once deemed the third-most beautiful woman in the country, 28-year-old Areewan Jatuthong has become an unofficial spokesperson against domestic violence in a nation where traditional roles still hold sway in many marriages and relationships.

Her storybook rise to national celebrity came in the early 1990s, when, as a nursing student, she won several small beauty pageants and entered the Miss Thailand contest in 1994. She was named second runner-up, and at 22, moved to Bangkok and took a position with the Ministry of Health. Soon enough, she was flattered by a persistent suitor, who convinced her to marry him.

“I knew it was premature,” she tells the independent Bangkok Post. “All the time, however, he kept insisting. I simply misunderstood. I thought it was love. If the man didn’t love me, why would he want to marry me? I came to understand later that he just wanted to own me and have an absolute right over me.”

Within months, Areewan was abused daily, hit, humiliated, and imprisoned in her own home. “At times, I was certain I was about to die,” she says.

She describes how her husband forced her to quit her job and pose for nude photographs. Eventually, another model helped her escape, and she consulted women’s rights advocates—and a lawyer. After a year of court appearances, covered by the national tabloid press, Areewan’s then-ex-husband was sentenced to six and a half years in jail. The Post reported that while free on bail, he attacked a police station while carrying heavy weapons and was sentenced to 18 years for that crime.

Areewan found a job at Cheewittongsu, a popular magazine whose title translates roughly into “Life Is a Struggle,” and is now an advice columnist, regularly penning “Areewan Answering Letters.” She says she is happy offering advice on domestic violence issues. “There are so many women who don’t realize how important the law is,” she says. “Sometimes I feel sad having to revisit my pain in the past, but I am glad to be of use to other people. These activities make me feel valuable.”

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