Da Nang teacher primes school students to protect themselves from sexual predators

By Nguyen Dong   April 10, 2019 | 03:00 am PT
Da Nang teacher primes school students to protect themselves from sexual predators
Pham Thi Thuy Loan during a class about sexual harassment at her school in Da Nang City. Photos by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong
A teacher in Da Nang teaches her students, both girls and boys, how to protect themselves from sexual harassment.

"It’s not right and it’s scary!" some girls say in response to what happened last week in Ho Chi Minh City and caused public outrage: a stranger approached a little girl in an elevator in an apartment building, wrapped his arm around her neck, kissed her and grabbed her when she tried to elude him.

"I feel really scared every time I am in the elevator by myself these days," one of the girls, Phuong Nhi, 14, says.

Nhi and the others are attending a class run by Pham Thi Thuy Loan, 35, vice principal of Nguyen Hue Secondary School in Hai Chau District in the central city.

For more than a year now Loan has been organizing these classes every Sunday morning to teach her students life skills and soft skills, and recently about sexual harassment.

After hearing what her students feel about the elevator molestation case, Loan shows the class of around 30 students aged between 10 and 16 a video in which a strange man tries to molest her when she is alone in a park.

Then she comes up with data on a screen about child sexual abuse in Vietnam and other countries, saying there are many cases that have not been revealed and might never be and therefore not included in the data.

The data shows Vietnamese courts heard 8,100 cases related to sexual assault of children between 2013 and 2017 and there is one child falling victim to this crime every eight hours.

The talk about statistics bores some of the boys but that changes quickly when she tells them that one in six boys are sexually harassed compared to one in four girls.

The class goes quiet for a while and then one boy says a stranger once touched his private parts.

Loan goes on to explain child sexual abuse is using force, threatening to use force, coercing, and enticing children to engage in sex-related behaviors, causing some of her students to open their eyes wide in surprise.

Then she puts up images of four people and asks the children to guess which of them is a molester. They all guess one or the other, but her final answer is an eye-opener: They should not go by looks since it could be just about anyone they meet.

Students attend a Sunday class on soft and life skills of Nguyen Thi Thuy Loan.

Students attend a Sunday class on soft and life skills of Pham Thi Thuy Loan. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong

She tells them they should therefore not accept any gifts from strangers, let anyone touch their private areas, be alone at deserted places or at night, change clothes or relieve themselves at places where others can see their private parts.

She also tells them to remember to quickly move away when a stranger comes close and to speak up as soon as possible if they have been harassed.

She says even parents are not aware of what constitutes sexual abuse, with some even thinking only rape falls in that category.

"The hardest part when talking about sexual harassment to children is that I have to choose the right words, the right terms and visualization that are appropriate for their ages."

Loan has been organizing activities to equip students with life skills for years.

Last summer, when she was promoted as vice principal, she decided to organize classes every Sunday.

Sometimes she takes her students to a park or a coffee shop for a change.

She puts up the venue and theme for each Sunday on her Facebook page, and students from other schools too are free to attend.

Besides sexual harassment, she also talks to them about school violence, how to manage their time, take notes effectively, work in a group and speak their opinions.

To teach certain skills like first aid and responding to crimes, she seeks advice from friends.

As information and images about Loan’s classes have gone viral, many students in other schools and even other districts want to attend them.

Flight, but also fight

Last Sunday Loan invited three martial arts instructors to her class to teach the children basic moves to help them escape from dangerous situations like being pushed to a wall, held in neck locks or having their hair grabbed.

Students learn basic martial art moves at one of Loans classes to protect themselves from sexual predetors. 

Students learn basic martial art moves at one of Loan's classes to protect themselves from sexual predetors. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong

Some parents attending the class could not hide their joy at seeing how their kids can get away from a dangerous situation, even though it was just a drill.

"I learned how to communicate better and protect myself from sexual harassment," Tran Duy Vinh, 16, says.

"Since theories are taught along with practice, we were interested in those classes and remember clearly what we learned."

Truong My Hoa, 14, says she has learned how to control her stress. This summer Loan will organize one more class for kids aged six to nine, and nearly 60 have registered.

Loan says sometimes children do not listen to or open up to their parents, but do so with their teachers.

One of her most memorable stories is about a student at her school who decided to commit suicide. She went to Thuan Phuoc Bridge on the Han River and was about to jump, but her fear of heights caused her to pass out.

At the hospital, Loan stayed by her side, befriended her and, over time, gained her trust.

The girl has fully recovered and is now in high school.

Vo Thanh Phuoc, principal of Nguyen Hue school, says: "The fact that many students and parents outside our school come to [Loan's] classes shows how effective her course is."

Tran Thi Thuy Ha, head of Hai Chau’s education and training department, says: "Such courses are necessary for students these days when they use social media every day. They need someone to guide them so that they have the right awareness and life skills."

The district plans to replicate Loan’s classes at other schools this summer, she says.

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