BackSociety » Vietnam's #MeToo Movement Begins With Sexual Assault Allegation at Tuoi Tre

Vietnam's #MeToo Movement Begins With Sexual Assault Allegation at Tuoi Tre

Misogyny is alive and well and will continue to be so if no action is taken to eradicate it.

On April 19, a number of journalists shared a rumor on social media about a young intern at Tuoi Tre who was allegedly sexually assaulted by a head of department. According to the rumor, the intern reportedly attempted suicide and was hospitalized after the incident. The posts quickly received widespread attention.

As the saga unfolded, it became known that the alleged perpetrator is the head of Tuoi Tre's TV department, Dang Anh Tuan – who's widely known by his pen name Anh Thoa – while the intern is currently a student at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities. On the same day, Tuoi Tre released a statement in Vietnamese announcing that the newspaper has temporarily suspended Tuan, pending further investigation.

The scandal has prompted many women, especially female journalists, to come forward with stories of sexual harassment in the workplace, including their own encounters, shedding light on a rarely discussed issue.

According to journalist Bao Uyen, who penned a post in Vietnamese on Facebook sharing her past experience with sexual harassment while lamenting how many publications have failed to provide female journalists with a safe space to work.

"I believe that journalism is not the only exception and that there are assholes in every profession. However, if you’re a journalist [in Vietnam], your colleagues will never let you appear in a news feature about any rape case wherein the suspect is the editor-in-chief, the managing editor, or head of a department," Uyen writes.

A screenshot of Uyen's post, via Zing

She then encouraged women to come forward by responding to the post with the #metoo hashtag that has caught on globally since last fall. However, for unknown reasons, Uyen’s Facebook account was later blocked, though her statement can be read in full here.

Khai Don, also a female journalist, shared a similar view in a blog post. Don described an incident involving a female journalist friend which went unreported. She also stated that it's common practice for companies to keep female journalists as interns for many years in order to make it easier for men in management positions to abuse their power for sexual favors.

More often than not, she states, women are objectified and traded within the network of powerful men as rewards and commodities. “The lack of a clear standard and criteria in hiring and promoting policies is the factor that put female journalists in a passive position that is easy to be controlled and manipulated,” Don writes in Vietnamese.

Regarding the current incident in question, in their statement on April, 19 Tuoi Tredenied reports that the intern had attempted suicide. “The intern was in the hospital on the night of April 18 because of health reasons and has checked out on the morning of April 19,” the newspaper added.

Some have called Tuoi Tre out for shifting attention and playing down the seriousness of the problem. The staff at the Journalism and Communication Department at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, for example, defended the student in a letter to Tuoi Tre’s editorial board. In it, the authors indicated that while they appreciated the newspaper's decision to suspend Tuan, they were disappointed in the publication's treatment of the student. The letter reads in Vietnamese:

“What we need to recognize here is that [the] student has gone through a series of traumatic psychological stresses that have taken a serious toll on her physical and mental health, creating negative decisions in her life. Suicide is a behavioral matter; the point here is that [she] has suffered extreme psychological anxiety for many months due to the impact of the sexual assault.”

On April 20, Phu Nu ran a feature in Vietnamese on sexual harassment at news organizations. Huynh Thu Thao, the author, opens the article with a personal story:

“I, as a journalism student that faced sexual harassment the moment I stepped into the field, want to tell you this: there are many more examples that are even more appalling. Of all my female friends, there is one who was raped during a business trip by her boss and then got pregnant, there is another one who was plied with alcohol and another one who was forced into consuming ecstasy and having sex, while I was once assaulted in a manager's office,” Thao writes.

On April 21, Tuoi Tre released another statement announcing that Tuan, the alleged rapist in the intern's case, had resigned. Tuan has denied all allegations, while the case will be transferred to police for further investigation.

This scandal has exposed a work culture that pushes some women out of their professions while undermining their well-being, growth and potential. According to recent research conducted by FoJo Media Institute, a Swedish international media development institute, and the Hanoi-based Center for Media and Development Initiatives (MDI) cited by Phu Nu, the amount of sexual harassment experienced by journalists in Vietnam is high, with the most vulnerable group being journalism students in intern positions and early-career female journalists. 

A 2014 ActionAid survey also found that 81% of Vietnamese women said they have experienced sexual harassment in public places. Meanwhile, a UN Women statement from late March also suggests that gender biases prevent rape victims from seeking justice in Vietnam. Specifically, women who reported rape are rarely trusted and are often told to resolve their "issue" through negotiations. 

In the wake of the Tuoi Tre scandal, hashtags such as #metoo, #letherdoherjob and #ngungimlang (stop the silence) have surfaced on social media and gained widespread attention. A group of Vietnamese journalists has also teamed up to initiate a campaign against newsroom harassment, using the hashtag #tòasoạnsạch (clean newsroom) to call for a safe space for female interns and female journalists. A Facebook page called "WeNet" (Vietnamese Women in Journalism Forum) was also recently established as a platform for female journalists to discuss gender equality and anonymously share their experiences with sexual harassment.  

[Top photo via Phu Nu]

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