Men not immune to sexual harassment

By Pham Nga   September 19, 2022 | 09:34 pm PT
It has been seven years, but Duc Thuan still remembers vividly the moment when a man dragged him into a closed room and raped him on a bed.

The 24-year-old from the southern province of Tra Vinh says he tried to fight but could not match his rapist’s strength.

After letting go of Thuan the man warned him not to tell anyone about what happened.

"My pulse was racing, I was panicking, I was ashamed," Thuan recalls.

He kept out of touch with that man after that day, attempting to forget the horrific incident.

Nguyen Van Minh, 34, of Hanoi, cannot forget his first sexual experience.

He was less than 20 years old at the time, and had recently migrated from his hometown to Hanoi.

After he dated a girl for a few months, she invited him to a motel and virtually demanded that they have sex.

"I was afraid and panicky since I had been taken off guard, especially because it was my first time," he recalls.

He cut off communication with her after that, but she persistently texted, made threatening calls and even tracked down his friends and acquaintances to find out where he was.

After nearly two months of stalking and mental torture, Minh was finally rid of her.

Sexually harassed men such as Thuan and Minh are not rare.

Dr Nguyen Phuong Mai, a lecturer teaching cross-cultural negotiation and management at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, cites a study of students in 32 countries that found that 2.4% of male students and 1.8% of female students admitted to being raped in the past, indicating that men are more likely than women to be sexually attacked.

A 2018 study by non-profit organization Stop Street Harassment found that 81% of women and 43% of men in the U.S. reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime.

According to a 2021 article published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), an estimated one in four men (or 2.2 million) aged 18 years and above experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime.

According to experts, there are three types of sexual harassment: behavioral forms such as touching; nonverbal forms such as displaying genitalia, lewd behavior and sending sexually explicit material; and verbal harassment such as being teased rudely, vulgar jokes and being dragged into unwanted sexual conversations.

A 2018 survey by ActionAid, a non-profit organization that works against poverty and injustice, in Vietnam and the Vietnam Women's Academy, a public higher education institution in Hanoi, at four textile companies in Hai Phong City and HCMC found more than 53% of workers had experienced sexual harassment at work, 23% of them men.

A survey of more than 800 male VnExpress readers, 29% said they had experienced sexual harassment one to two times and 26% said it happened frequently.

Tran Quang Tung of Nghe An Province said he was powerless and did not know how to express his displeasure as a kid when his relatives and their friends touched his genitals.

Now, at 32, he says he dislikes being touched without his consent.

But his workplace was predominantly female, and he was often touched by his co-workers, especially since he looks masculine and physically fit.

Older women colleagues would frequently touch him on his bottom, squeezed his chest and gush over his muscles.

One day a colleague jokingly said, "That's my husband" and kissed him on his cheek.

Tung was annoyed despite the fact he knew they were just joking and did not have any bad intentions.

He could not confide in his boss because she also teased him.

" I'm a human being, not a pet," he says.

"I like being near and intimate but only with the person I genuinely care for. It is unpleasant to be touched by everyone."

He could not take it any longer and one day quit his job.

Writer and journalist Hoang Anh Tu thinks that a majority of people believe that "men are never at risk of being sexually harassed."

"People assume that women touching males is a kind of compliment rather than harassment."

Dr Mai says the stigma associated with male sexual desire prevents many people from speaking out, pointing out that only 13% of males report abusers whereas 39% of women do.

She says that people often assume, based on social stereotypes, that men always have sexual desire and their body is a weapon, and so cannot complain they are being harassed when someone grabs them.

"How can someone in possession of a weapon be defenseless?"

Few people realize that men who are sexually harassed suffer from the same psychological trauma as women.

Duc Thuan, a freelance photographer, says he is haunted by the trauma of being sexually harassed in the past. Photo courtesy of Thuan

Duc Thuan, a freelance photographer, says he is haunted by the trauma of being sexually harassed in the past. Photo courtesy of Thuan

Duc Thuan was humiliated and enraged because he could not stand up to a male teacher.

Six months after the incident he told his mother, but she persuaded him to remain silent to preserve his "honor" and because the situation "was not serious."

Thuan became depressed, thinking that telling anyone was pointless.

The past does not remain as quiet as he would like, and continues to haunt him

Every time he sees news about a student being sexually abused or hears about a rape, he recalls his own past.

His fixation with being sexually harassed makes it tough for him, especially when he is with his girlfriend. He says his trauma resurfaces whenever he is with her, causing him to panic and shove her away.

"My mother believed what the other man did to me had no ramifications, but it wrecked my psyche."

Minh too says being raped by his lover caused him to become fixated on that throughout his youth.

After several romances, marriage and having children, he mustered the courage to tell a group of close friends to try and relieve the trauma.

He says: "But when my friends heard it, they burst out laughing: ‘Oh my, shouldn't you be glad it happened to you?’ they joked."

He was embarrassed and realized his confession made him a butt of jokes.

"It made me feel like I was being sexually harassed again for revealing it."

Tu feels families should teach males about the dangers of sexual harassment and the law should punish perpetrators when the victims of sexual harassment are men.

At a conference in 2014 Tran Van Do (then deputy chief justice of the Supreme People's Court and now chief justice of the Central Military Court) called for adding women to sexual harassment suspects since the perpetrator of intercourse could be a woman.

Mai says Vietnam should have sex education in schools "to create a generation of civilized Vietnamese."

Thuan chose to make his story public on social media earlier this year because he could no longer have his past trauma constantly hanging over him.

He had no idea he was not the only victim of that male teacher, and many others spoke about their own unpleasant memories.

Six other complaints were made to the police in addition to his.

"My mother advised me to remove my post from the Internet. But she changed her mind after learning that many people had been victims, and realizing if I did not speak up, there could be many more victims."

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