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Misconceptions Surround Sexual Harassment, Abuse in Vietnam: Survey

A recent ActionAid survey has uncovered troubling views on sexual harassment not only among Vietnamese men but also Vietnamese women.

According to VnExpress, the international NGO interviewed over 2,000 people in five cities about sexual harassment and found that the majority of Vietnamese women did not feel safe in public places because of their gender. However, more often than not, the survey found, instances of groping or catcalling were not taken seriously.

In fact, only 48% of women and girls were concerned about sexual harassment because their definition of the term included only the most serious examples, such as rape.

"Initially many misinterpreted the term 'sexual harassment'," ActionAid Vietnam country director Hoang Phuong Thao told VnExpress. "They thought we were only asking about rape cases." 

ActionAid, however, uses the term sexual harassment to refer to unwanted actions such as groping, touching, catcalling and whistling. For many Vietnamese women, this behavior is something they have learned to put up with. According to the news outlet, one Hanoian survey respondent told ActionAid: “Taking the bus for a long time, I got used to these kinds of behavior.”

While the survey found Vietnamese women were often quick to rationalize this conduct despite feeling afraid or uncomfortable, it also showed that many men believe teasing women is acceptable.

“Among the male participants in the survey, many believe sexual harassment is not dangerous and it shows their masculine nature,” Thao told VnExpress.

However, there is also evidence that these advances go beyond harassment to abuse. In a UN-backed survey released last month, three in five Vietnamese women reported having faced abuse from their partners, with some also believing it could be justified in certain cases.

But in a culture where talking about abuse is stigmatized, few women bother to speak up, as victim blaming is common and Vietnamese laws surrounding sexual harassment and abuse are lax. Sexual harassment violations result in a fine of US$75 at most, the news outlet reports, while criminals are only charged with sexual assault when a victim has injuries to at least 11% of his or her body.

In another VnExpress article, one 43-year-old woman, whose husband had abused her for two decades, told the news outlet: “Everybody here looks at me with respect. I bet other women couldn't endure what I've had to put up with. I get more respect from neighbors and family members than women who are not beaten by their husbands.” 

While Vietnam has taken baby steps toward changing some of these attitudes, such as last year's code of conduct, which addressed sexual harassment in the workplace, there is still plenty of work to be done in combatting sexual harassment and violence against Vietnamese women. Just last month, government officials announced they would not press charges against two men caught on tape beating a Vietnam Airlines employee.

[Photo via Thanh Nien]

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