In Vietnam, domestic violence spans across every walk of life

By Ngoc Dinh   December 23, 2018 | 04:33 am PT
In Vietnam, domestic violence spans across every walk of life
Despite serious threats within their family, many women have rarely spoken up about their being abused. Photo by Shutterstock/A. and I. Kruk
Domestic violence is widespread in Vietnam but the victims, usually women, conceal it fearing shame and stigma.

An ongoing exhibition at Hanoi’s Vietnamese Women’s Museum, showcases heart-wrenching stories of female victims of domestic violence.

While the Law on Domestic Violence Prevention and Control came into force 10 years ago, domestic violence remains rife among all social classes.

Behind closed doors

"Behind closed doors" is the name of the exhibition, which will stay open until the end of the month, exhibiting victims' stories, installations and housing models to support domestic violence victims.

Most of the stories were shared from unnamed women.

One of them is a 38-year-old university lecturer in Nam Dinh Province, three hours south of Hanoi. She married a man whose excellent academic achievements she admired.

In the seemingly ideal family, however, she suffers physical violence frequently at the hands of her husband.

"My husband locks the door when he hits me," she said.

"My husband never accepts that I can do something he does not like, even the smallest thing. If he asks me to buy lemons but I buy kumquats instead, he would think I disrespect him and curse and hit me immediately."

A 37-year-old bank employee in Vinh Phuc Province, one hour northwest of Hanoi, also endures brutal beatings from her husband.

"He often locks me inside the house to beat me," she said.

When they have an argument, her husband uses anything within his reach to attack her. "If he can reach a knife, he uses a knife. Without it, he would throttle my neck, leaving marks."

She showed two scars on her neck as the legacy of an attack when he throttled her neck so tightly she bled.

"I was too weak to resist the violence; he is a strong man. Once he used a chopping knife to slit my throat, I was so scared I called the police."

She said that once her husband attacked her with a knife but she lied to her colleagues about the injury, saying she was robbed on the street.

"I don’t want my colleagues or my husband’s colleagues know I’m beaten by him, because it will affect his job and my children."

These tragic stories are repeated by woman after woman across the country. In fact, 58 percent of women who have ever been married experienced at least one of physical, mental or sexual violence at the hands of their husbands, reported the National study on Domestic Violence Against Women by the Vietnamese government and the United Nations.

The Nam Dinh university lecturer, only identified by her initials P.T.T., said: "I asked him we are both intellectuals, so how could he hit me like that. I am a lecturer, yet I am insulted by my husband."

She has also experienced sexual abuse by her husband.

"My husband has high sexual demands, and I always have to satisfy him or else he will get suspicious."

Sometimes when she stayed with her children to avoid him, he would grab her, spit in her face and curse.

"I always feel so ashamed and painful like I was raped."

P.K.H., another teacher in Nam Dinh, started suffering physical abuse in 2012 when she found out about her husband’s affair.

"One time he came home late from work and knocked on the door, but I did not hear it as I was on the phone. When I opened the door he punched me right on my face, causing my eyes to swell."

M.T.H., 50, a freelancer in Dong Anh District in suburban Hanoi, said, "My children often witnessed their father’s sexual violence against me.

"Sometimes when he would demand sex and I would refuse he would strip off his clothes and turn on the light even in front of our children."

Her youngest son is now struggling with depression because of such experiences. When her oldest son protested, her husband said, "She is my wife, I can sleep with her."

Ten percent of women who had ever married have experienced domestic sexual violence, according to the national study on Domestic Violence Against Women. The report also points out that sexual violence does not differ among different age groups or academic levels.

Besides physical and sexual abuse, the report found that women also experience mental abuse and financial abuse from their spouses.

The truth untold

Despite serious threats within their family, many women have never voiced about their abuse for fear of social prejudice.

S.N.B, 42, a freelancer in Lang Son, four hours north of Hanoi, said she endured torture that almost killed her.

"I once lost consciousness on the street, my neighbors had to take me to the hospital." B said. "Two weeks ago, he used a knife to slit my head, leaving an open wound. I had to receive over ten stitches."

The husband was arrested by the local police and the knife was confiscated, but S. eventually asked for his release.

"I was afraid people would say it is me who throw my husband into jail. I’m afraid my children would grow up thinking that way, so I withdrew my lawsuit."

N.T.O., a shopkeeper in Hai Duong Province, more than an hour east of Hanoi, who endured her spouse’s verbal attacks throughout decades, said that she thought confessing would embarrass her and getting divorce was considered a disgrace.

"If I get divorced, people will laugh at us," O said. "My daughter’s parents in law will not understand, it will put a bad reputation on my daughter."

Statistics in the National Study show nearly half of the respondents say they have never told anyone about their husbands' violent behavior; 87.1 percent of the women suffering spousal abuse never sought help from any government body or organization.  

In Vietnam, there were one million divorce cases involving domestic violence nationwide between 2008 and 2018, according to the justice department.

Around 97 percent of the nation's victims are women, according to the National Study on Domestic Violence Against Women, co-conducted by the government and the United Nations.

According to a 2013 report by World Health Organization, Southeast Asia ranked highest after Africa, at 40.2 percent, for lifetime prevalence of intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence, or both, among all women of 15 years or older.

go to top