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Police this morning said they apprehended a photographer in Pathum Thani province accused of sexually assaulting young beauty pageant contestants.

Thanawat Wisetnarakul, 38, was taken into custody last night after being accused of sexual assault including rape by at least 10 women, including a 19-year-old Miss Universe Thailand contestant, prompting pageant officials to say it must come clean about sexual violence.

“It’s time that sexual harrassment is seriously addressed,” said Piyaporn “Pui” Sankosik, the pageant’s executive director. “Every woman has to be protected, and [organizers] do not have to keep things secret just because they’re afraid of the infamy. There is no kind of bad reputation here, because we didn’t do anything wrong.”

The 19-year-old and a 23-year-old colleague filed complaints against Thanawat yesterday at the Lumphini Police Station. The two women claimed that he sexually assaulted them while he was shooting for the pageant at its contestant orientation last month at two hotels, one in Khao Yai, Nakhon Ratchasima province, and another in Bangkok’s Lumphini area.

The women’s lawyer, Saranya Wangsukcharoen, said Thanawat assaulted at least 10 women associated with Miss Universe and other beauty contests, all of whom have filed police complaints. One said she was raped by Thanawat and filed a complaint at the Khlong Ha Police Station late last year. 

Thanawat denied all charges against him and was denied bail.

Piyaporn also urged other victims of harassment and abuse to speak up. 

“Silence is a mistake. Every woman should be able to speak up about this. You’re the brave ones who can stop this vicious cycle,” she said. 

Amanda Obdam, who was crowned Miss Thailand Universe last year, followed suit.

“I would like to show my support to everyone who was sexually harassed. It was a terrible experience that no one should have, and I’d like to be the support to those who stand up to fight for the right thing. It might be a hard thing to speak up about, but I believe that this society is ready to stand by you,” she tweeted.

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