In Vietnam a mass sexual assault occurred in broad daylight this year. Authorities did nothing. Now the victims are being blamed, writes Alison Cheung.
On April 19, Ho Tay Water Park in Hanoi, Vietnam, opened its gates to the public without charge for two hours to mark its season opening. Thousands of people rushed in; more climbed the gates, even after the park had shut its doors. Management estimated 20,000 people entered. For some of them, their lives may never again be the same.
The water was crowded as the happy throng was pushed along by the current. Suddenly the mood changed, and people screamed. A group of men had taken advantage of the confusion and the crowd to push women under the water. As they struggled to escape, the men grabbed, scratched, groped and fingered them. The women screamed for help, but no one tried to stop their attackers. Bystanders simply watched the chaos unfold.
Three months on, nothing has been done. There’ve been no huge headlines, no major coverage on global mainstream news and definitely no charges laid. The authorities appear to have turned a blind eye to the events, despite dozens of witness accounts and photos being published on social media. One message summed it up: “Some women had their bikinis ripped off and were molested.” As disturbing as the victim accounts were, the most alarming evidence was videos uploaded online by the attackers, proudly showing off their brutish behaviour. (Many of the most confronting Facebook posts have been deleted.)
You’d expect a backlash over such an event, but when it did come, it was directed at the victims.
A female director of Hanoi Entertainment Services Corporation, the parent company of the water park, blamed the victims: “No sexual harassment here. The bikini girl torn by the quality of this swimwear [sic]!”
A psychologist, Pham Phuc Thinh, quoted by the Vietnamese newspaper Saostar, also blamed the victims: “But the first thing is to blame the girls themselves do not consciously protect themselves [sic].
“In an environment where everyone (male and female) are nude about 80 per cent (or even more), the emergence of excessive action is inevitable.”
He equated the girls’ failure to protect themselves to people failing to lock up their valuables.
“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
These two responses epitomise the worst cases of victim-blaming.
It fits with modern society’s culture of finding fault with the victim: “Why did you walk home so late all by yourself?” “Why were you wearing such a short mini skirt?” and “You should have expected it.”
I have seen someone very close to me insulted that way by her own family, after she was stalked and harassed while walking home. It was painful to watch her own parents fail to understand that she had not invited such behaviour. They never asked the questions a victim’s family should ask.
Rather than hold the perpetrator responsible, we ask the victims to change their behaviour. My friend’s parents now insist she pay for a taxi if she is out late.
Why do they not ask, instead, how men – or any other assailant – can justify such abhorrent behaviour? An ancient saying (commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin) runs: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
Society must re-educate our authorities, parents and teachers. We must change how women are perceived and how victims are treated. We must all recognise that assault is never the victim’s fault. That understanding can provide tremendous encouragement for victims to stand up, report incidents and, eventually, overcome their traumas.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reports that nearly half of all females have experienced some form of sexual harassment.
The figures show nearly 81 per cent of females who had been sexually assaulted by a male since the age of 15 did not report the abuse to police. The figure is even higher for males sexually violated by women, a staggering 95.7 per cent.
As long as victims are made to feel responsible for their own misfortune, sexual assault cases will continue to be seen as the victim’s fault rather than a brutal crime against them. We need to stop criticising those who suffer in silence and we need to start naming sexual assault for what it really is: a crime. – Alison Cheung
Top photo by Jessica Heckley.