Pavena Hongsakula (left) and her Pavena Foundation for Children and Women led the fight to find closure for the mother of a teenage housemaid, murdered and buried five years ago. (Photo by Tawatchai Kemgumnerd)
There is a colloquial saying that when women and children find themselves indistress or danger, they should turn to "Pavena" for help.
Former MP for Bangkok Pavena Hongsakula has been a household name associated with many rescues of young girls who fall victim to trafficking and sex crime rings.
The politician started a foundation in 1999, based in Pathum Thani, to serve the vulnerable children and women. Ms Pavena often makes an appearance at press conferences announcing the rescue of young victims in high-profile cases.
In a recent case, a distraught mother asked the foundation to find closure for her. The mother was desperate for answers as to where the body of her 16-year-old daughter, who went missing five years ago, was buried. She was allegedly the victim of a brutal killing by her employer.
Inquirylines, published bi-weekly on Mondays is a Bangkok Post column to present in-depth details of a range of issues from politics and social interest to eye-catching everyday lives.
"We do not turn down complaints from the public," said Ms Pavena, chairwoman of the Pavena Foundation for Children and Women.
The foundation has built up its profile from helping people in highly-publicised cases of murder, rape and other human rights violations.
"Many come all the way from the provinces just to seek help from us in person. Where would they go if we rejected them?" Ms Pavena said.
However, the foundation not only works to help the living. It also receives calls to find the dead.
In the latest case, Janthira Srisak travelled from Phetchaburi to Bangkok to seek help from the foundation after she was told by an unidentified witness last month that her missing daughter, Jariya "Nong Nam" Srisak, had been beaten to death and her body buried for five years.
The foundation helped her lodge a complaint with CIB chief Thitiraj Nhongharnpitak, who promptly ordered a probe into the case. The police raided the Phetchaburi house of Krisana Suwanphithak, 45, accused of murdering Jariya, and found a human skeleton, which was taken to Bangkok for a lab test. The examination confirmed a positive DNA match with the girl.
Police charged Ms Krisana, a former beauty pageant contestant, with murder. She admitted all charges, including injuring the victim and causing death, according to police. However, the suspect has now retracted her confession, blaming her close friend, identified only as Pratthana, for the killing.
Ms Pavena said Ms Janthira arrived at the foundation desperate for answers as to the whereabouts of her daughter.
"When the child's mother came to us, we immediately thought about the condition of the body," Ms Pavena said. "We were concerned if her daughter's body was still going to be intact."
In similar cases, Ms Pavena said her foundation serves as a non-governmental intermediary in police investigations, coordinating with authorities to speed up legal procedures where possible.
As of this year, the foundation has received 7,500 requests for help.
Ms Pavena said the foundation accepts distress calls, walk-in complaints, and most recently, online complaints via its official Facebook page.
The foundation gives priority to rape, abduction and prostitution cases on the basis of urgency.
"If a child claims she has been raped, for instance, the matter must be addressed immediately. It can't wait for one or two days," Ms Pavena said.
She said the foundation does not turn away people seeking help because it was often their last hope. "The least we can do for cases outside our criteria is give them advice about legal processes."
Ms Pavena noted she sometimes gets tip-offs from people, such as neighbours who witness abuse, who are reluctant to contact police out of concern they will be dragged into the case as witnesses.
Ms Pavena said her inspiration to help women and children started during her first term as MP in 1988 when she visited the Kredtrakarn Protection and Occupational Development Centre, a shelter for victimised women and children in Nonthaburi.
She said she wanted to ask the girls how they came to the rescue home and what life was like there. An 11-year-old girl she thought was a staff member's daughter turned out to be a victim.
"She told me her stepfather had put her in a brothel, and police had placed her at the centre for safety. I was shocked to hear that," she added.
After the visit, she said she was fired up with determination to help distressed women and children, and pushed for legislative changes to improve their welfare and safety.
Later, she set up the foundation. Ms Pavena said she no longer has plans to re-enter politics.