Sexual harassment rife on public buses, law remains lethargic

By Linh Do   September 25, 2019 | 11:16 am GMT+7
Sexual harassment rife on public buses, law remains lethargic
A Hanoi public bus picks up passengers. Photo by Shutterstock/Vietnam Stock Images.

Some ugly instances of sexual harassment on buses have prompted authorities to act, but the action’s undermined by several factors including public indifference. 

Two men in Hanoi have recently been reported to the police for approaching and masturbating before two female students, causing them great distress. 

The incidents occurred on June 21st and 26th on the same route, Bus No. 1, which runs between Gia Lam district and Yen Nghia bus stations in Ha Dong district. The perpetrators were aged 38 and 24 respectively. Both men were caught in the act by passengers and bus personnel and reported to the nearest police stations.  

Besides Bus No. 1, sexual harassment has also been reported on other bus routes. In fact, it is generally agreed that sexual harassment on buses against women, especially girls, is widespread.

In May, 59-year-old Nguyen Quang Duong touched a 40-year-old woman’s chest three times on board Bus No. 103A, which runs from the Perfume Pagoda in Hanoi's My Duc district to the My Dinh bus station in Nam Tu Liem district.

When they got off the bus, the woman reacted strongly by slapping and punching the man. The man was later reported to the Thanh Oai District Police and fined the notorious amount: VND200,000 ($8.7).

In the earlier case, the 38-year-old man admitted his lewd act to the Hang Ma Ward Police, but said he didn’t touch the girl, a secondary school student. The police merely asked him to promise in writing that he would not repeat his actions and let him go without imposing a fine.    

The perpetrators aged 38 were caught in the act by passengers and bus personnel and reported to the nearest police stations. Photo acquired by VnExpress.

The perpetrators aged 38 were caught in the act by passengers and bus personnel and reported to the nearest police stations. Photo acquired by VnExpress.

However, Giang Hong Thanh of Giang Thanh Law Office said this man’s act should have been fined VND100,000-300,000 (about $4-13) in accordance with a decree which deals with provocative, insulting behavior.

Lawyer Thanh told local media that not imposing a fine in this case might create a bad precedent for similar acts in the future.

The Vietnamese legal system has been criticized for being too lenient on sexual harassment. The law deals with rape as a crime, but not sexual harassment, which is often categorized as an administrative violation.

For instance, in Hanoi this March, 37-year-old Do Manh Hung, who forcibly kissed a 20-year-old woman in an elevator, was let off with a paltry fine of VND200,000 ($8.62). 

Under-reported

Many victims and witnesses of sexual harassment on buses keep silent and don’t report what happens.

According to a senior student at the Hanoi National University of Education, one day, as she was traveling to Dong Da district's Chua Boc Street on the crammed Bus No.26, a man who was standing behind her repeatedly touched her body.

The student said she was extremely confused and did not know what to do. "I simply moved to another place," she said.

Another female student from Hanoi Medical College told a different story.

She said that one evening, around 6.30 p.m., she was on Bus No.8, traveling from the Ngoc Hoi junction to the Long Bien bus station when a man took advantage of the crowded situation and harassed her sexually. She shouted at him and stopped his actions, but other passengers, the bus driver and the bus conductor remained indifferent, and didn’t say a word.

Sometimes, bus employees themselves are the problem.

In June, a 20-year-old woman from the central province of Khanh Hoa reported being harassed on a night bus operated by the Phuong Trang INC Joint Stock Company. The perpetrator turned out to be the bus conductor, 36-year-old Vo Quang Luc, who had been working for the company for 10 years. Phuong Trang has decided to fire him. 

According to the NGO, Plan International Vietnam, a survey found 19 percent of girls saying they still faced sexual harassment on buses, and nine percent of surveyed passengers saying they choose not to intervene even if they see sexual harassment happening.

These figures are actually a significant improvement compared to Plan International Vietnam’s 2013 survey in which 31 percent of 1,128 interviewed girls said they had been sexually harassed on buses, and up to 20 percent of surveyed passengers admitted that they did nothing.

Nguyen Hoang Hai, Director of Hanoi Urban Transport Management and Operation Centre (TRAMOC), said that his center has worked with Plan International Vietnam since 2014 to print guidelines for passengers as well as provide training for transport personnel, bus drivers and bus conductors on gender equality and prevention of gender-based violence against girls.

A bus is painted in orange to raise public awareness about sexual harassment against women and children. Photo by VOV.

A bus is painted in orange to raise public awareness about sexual harassment against women and children. Photo by VOV.

Hai said further actions would be carried out to train bus drivers and conductors on how to handle sexual harassment and build a safe culture for girls on buses.

In HCMC, in recent years, the HCMC Management Centre of Public Transport (MCPT) has also improved infrastructure and service quality on its bus routes, and installed cameras on over 2,000 buses with 3-4 cameras per bus to help prevent sexual harassment as well as theft.

According to MCPT’s Director Tran Chi Trung, his center has collaborated with the HCMC Police to provide a hotline for commuters to report any wrongful act. This number will be displayed on all buses in HCMC.

Last November, HCMC launched 26 new orange buses on the Le Hong Phong Road – HCMC Vietnam National University route, and painted bus stops in District 1 in orange in a campaign to raise public awareness about sexual harassment against women and children.

This was part of the "16 Days of Activism" global campaign held every November 25, which the UN has designated as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The orange color has been used to raise awareness in campaigns worldwide.

Meanwhile in Hanoi, according to Hai, three hotline numbers have been printed on all bus routes.

Both Hai and Trung urged victims and witnesses to speak out and report wrongful acts to help bus personnel and authorities do their jobs better and make buses a safe place for women and girls to travel in.

 
 
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