Former Thai band ‘idol’ now speaks out against the industry’s dark side

A former performer, advocate to end cyber-violence and online harassment

Date: Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Author: Montira Narkvichien

Orange Microphone illustration

For the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, we are handing over the mic to women on the front line, those who are battling COVID-19 and the pandemic of violence against women and girls that’s relentless and rising. These are the voices of survivors, essential workers, and leaders, telling us what’s urgent, and how we can stop the escalating violence, recover and rebuild from COVID-19.

Naruethai Tansukasem was born on Valentine’s Day and spent her teens singing and dancing under the bright lights with a girls band called Siamese Kittenz. But now she’s speaking out against the way in which she says the industry and the fans treat their young “idols” as mere objects for financial profit and lurid fantasies.

Naruethai climbed onto the stage at 12 and left at 18, when, she says, she finally understood how manipulative it all was. Now, at 20, she’s a third-year student in music at Silapakorn University in Bangkok and an advocate against sexual harassment and for personal privacy.

Naruthai Tansukasem performing during a 2019 reunion concert with her former group “Siamese Kittenz”. Photo courtesy of Kukufoto
Naruthai Tansukasem performing during a 2019 reunion concert with her former group “Siamese Kittenz”. Photo courtesy of Kukufoto
Orange opening quotation mark

Many people may adore young female singers who enjoy the bright lights and legions of fans. But there’s another side that few people ever think about.

What can you do to help?

Responsible and ethical consumption of social media is the way out. It starts with you and the people around you, to the community at large.

Our pictures, autographs, handwritten notes to fans, meet-and-greets -- all these became sellable products,” Naruethai said of her time in the entertainment business. “It came with the cost of our privacy.”

And the “objectification” did not come only from those behind the stage, she said.

“Many people may adore the young female singers who enjoy the bright lights and legions of fans,” she said. “But there’s another side that few people ever think about. We are often treated by society as mere sexual objects and not human beings with dignity and rights. The fans’ actions are part of the objectification problem but they don’t realize it.”

Naruethai joined Girls, Not Objects, an online platform and photo exhibition supported by UN Women that showed how female artists are devalued as objects through various means including cyberbullying, social expectations of public figures, and the marketing methods of the entertainment industry.

“Sexual objectification in the media can affect ‘idols’ mentally, emotionally and physically,” she said in a recent interview with UN Women. “Some of us received messages asking for escort services or more, and most of the time, photos of private parts or people engaging in delinquent activities were sent to our mailboxes. I was always afraid that the day might come when my name and photos would be misused.”

During the COVID-19 lockdowns, “the perpetrators of violence against women and children” have increasingly turned to the Internet to target their victims, Naruthai said. As an example, she pointed to Fanboi.ch, a Thai-language free-access webboard for exchanging lurid details of female pop stars and teenagers. The platform has gone unnoticed and unchecked by the authorities, she said.

The more the perpetrators can hide, “the more they can become lethal”, she said.

In the past few months, Naruthai herself was targeted by online avatars—unknown delinquents. The photos and videos that were spread online were hauntingly graphic.

“Suddenly I noticed a higher number of followers on my Instagram account and phone calls from friends and fans were pouring in to check if ’it’ was really me,” Naruthai said in a trembling voice. “I asked myself, was I the one doing such acts?”

“I was traumatized and embarrassed to see my headshot photographs cut and pasted onto the naked body of someone else,” she said. “There were some videos shot from behind or from an angle where you do not know who are the persons doing the ‘activities’, with texts saying he was enjoying my ‘company’. After I learned about these violations, I started to receive excessive spam coming from so many directions.

“I felt so numb and hopeless. I then turned the phone off for one day and went to consult an NGO working to end all forms of sexual harassment and domestic violence. I received legal support and filed a police complaint and later with the digital crime department at the Thai Ministry of Digital Economy and Society. Since this is an act of those who are unknown, those avatars, my complaints were received but the authorities have no clue who to go after.”

Responsible behavior online “starts from yourself”, Naruethai said. “You never know whom you may be hurting.”