According to the reports submitted by VKSND, from 2010 to 2014, there were over 7,500 prosecuted cases, with a further 8,000 accused of committing the crime of sexual abuse of young children.
Yet this number is not a true reflection of what the actual number could be. That number, including unreported cases, or cases that will never be reported, is surely much higher and shocking.
It takes over a month for a case to be properly investigated
A part of that is because an investigation into these sort of cases are often made complicated.
The first reason is the evidence, or the testimonial, that a child gives is often inconsistent. Lawyer Dinh Quynh Nhu (An Luat Associates, Ho Chi Minh City) has been handling cases involving child sex abuse. and while investigators and police believe that the horrible crime has been committed, finding the evidence for prosecution is hard, sometimes impossible. The inconsistencies in a child's statement also makes it hard: this time she'll say she was abused 3 times, next time it's 5 times. This time it happened here, next time it happened there....
And it's easy to understand, after all the child could still be only in first or second grade. She's far too young. So young that perhaps she hasn't even mastered counting to 10, or she doesn't have the full understanding of the severe nature of the crime to be able to report 'facts. But, the very basic truth of her story is there, even if she can't provide absolute details.
A corner of our house. There are dogs, cats, doves, chickens, and many different kinds of plants and flowers. This environment helps the girls live in peace and harmony, and teaches them how to love
As an example, a child who is normally takes very good care of herself and makes sure she is clean and well presented, spent an awfully long time bathing one day. So long that her mother got worried and pushed the door open, only to find her standing there under the shower, scrubbing herself over and over. She had used almost one full bottle of shower gel. She was shivering cold, yet she stood there, scrubbing herself.
Or, the story of a child who took extra tutoring classes. On this particular day, before heading out to her tutoring class, she kept reminding her mother over and over to make sure to put on lots of layers of pants for her. The weather in Saigon was balmy, for what reason would she have to wear multiple pants, especially as she was well toilet trained. Concerned, the mother asked her why, to which she replied: "that man (the husband of her tutor) always takes my pants off....please put on extra pants so he can't take them off!
Enraged, the mother was determined to bring the accused to justice, however she needed 'evidence'. She was afraid to bring her daughter to a doctor in her current home of Saigon, as she didn't want her daughter to be the subject of vicious rumors and gossip. And so they trekked back to their village and paid their local doctor a visit. The result: Her hymen was no longer intact.
Together with lawyers, as well as a statement from the child, they could finally gather enough 'evidence' to have a case.
But no! We're talking about a poverty stricken family, who had to save for weeks before they could afford to go home to their village for their check up. By the time they visited the doctor, a month had already passed. Was the 'evidence' even valid anymore?
Communal study room. The girls do their studies here every night
Whoever has the artistic ability is encouraged to do cross stitch, which is then used as a fundraiser. The artwork is usually sold to many of our generous donors
Specialists in mental health, as well as those on the investigation team, lawyers...etc...all agree that in if a child begins to display signs of distress or abnormal behaviour, to get her assessed, and be ready to have to report it to the police. A medical assessment should be done as soon as possible, to ensure the 'evidence' is valid. Only then can the predator be taken to justice, to stop him from harming other children.
More importantly, prevention is always the best method. Parents and close relatives need to have regular conversations with their children, so that any behavior that's out of the ordinary can be detected immediately. It's always best to have a relationship where the child feels safe, and trusts that she is able to talk to you about problems. Encourage her to speak, and ensure that parents listen.
There was a case of a child of only five years old, who was constantly abused by a neighbour. Because they all lived in community housing, the predator knew the parents' schedule: when they'd be at work, what time they'd be home. He would wait until they left the house and he, along with others like him in the community would go and abuse the poor child. The whole community knew. The only people who were left in the dark were her parents.
"I've never taken a piano lesson. I just like it so I taught myself!". Our home is graced with "musicians", "choreographers" and "dancers", who come up with dance routines to teach the other girls. They perform these routines during the festive season
When a child is told never to tell a soul about their dirty secret....
Phuong Thao, one of the counselling staff at OBV shares her memories of counselling sessions with the girls.
Her family come from a village far away. Her parents were always away working, so she would wander around the streets, where eventually, a 50 year old neighbour abused her. But when she went home and told her mother, she was roughly told not to spread lies. In fact, she was slapped across the face and told never to speak of it to anyone ever again.
Even when talking with counselors, the mother would curse the child, and try to stop her from speaking about her horrific experience.
"There are even cases where the child's mother forbids her to ever speak of it, and in turn they become depressed and withdrawn," - lawyer Tran Thi Thu Ha, Director of the Office of Child Protection, Vietnam (South) tells us.
When a child is abused, the aftermath usually falls into one of 2 categories. The first is being intimidated by violence to remain silent. The other is a little more subtle, with the victim being bribed with money, gifts, candy, promises of pleasure...
In the fist scenario, the child is often terrified. She will try to hint or find ways to inadvertently tell her parents or someone she trusts. But if it backfires and instead of listening to her, a mother turns around and scolds her further, she will only withdraw further within herself. She'll doubt herself, or think this is her own fault, without being about to describe what the fault is.
Just the constant to and fro, causing mental anguish and self loathing. In the worst of cases, some even take their own lives to escape.
A community that loves and understands
It's not like there's a shortage of cases where the parents want to care and look after their child...they just simply don't know how to.
In one particular incident, a young mother brought her child to the office of one of OBV's affiliated lawyers, seeking advice and guidance as her lack of knowledge contributed to the risk of her child being harmed. In front of a dozen strangers she launched into rather explicit details on what had happened to her daughter. Who had harmed her, who had hurt her....the lawyer had to think quickly to firstly calm her down, and move her to another area where they could talk in private.
Bringing up the experience in aggressive and negative light could possibly cause delay in the child's rehabilitation.
The girls choreograph dances to traditional Vietnamese music to perform at special occasions.
The girls are also given the opportunity to learn martial arts, as a means to protect themselves
Parents who are not strong and in the know about the dangers their children face, then the social stigma behind sexual child abuse remains a lost concept on many Vietnamese. There will never be a shortage of people filled with discrimination, curiosity, or other thoughts towards a child. It is only a matter of time before 'curiosity' gets the better of them, and child has been hurt and traumatized for the rest of her life.
The predator may not be aware of it, but what he does to a child is evil, plain and simple.
There are cases where a child is forced to leave school, as she becomes the subject of gossip and rumors among her peers.
The House Mother (please see Part 1) recalls a time she met a child that she considers the most gut-wrenching. A neighbourhood full of gossipy and nosey people. "The father kept his head down, the mother pretended to carry on like nothing happened. A child could not possibly grow up with a healthy mentality in that kind of environment" - House Mother reflects.
Even more pitiful is the story of a child in Vietnam's west. After the accused was imprisoned, the victim and her family continuously received death threats as 'revenge'. The victim's home was constantly targeted. If they left for a few hours, they would come back to see all the fish in their koi pond dead. The family had to remember to always leave the fire escape open, in case their house was set on fire. The victim herself had to drop out of school, as she would be physically abused every day on her way to and from school.
The presence and cooperation of the local authorities, including the police, But moreso than that, what is truly needed is a community that will understand and display true compassion towards the victim, as well as work together to protect and shield the children. Only then may that deter a man with dark thoughts from acting.
By Hoàng Xuân, Ảnh: Phạm An/ Trí Thức Trẻ
Translated by Jacqueline Huynh. The Vietnamese version in OBV website entitled "Những Đứa Trẻ Bị Xâm Hại (Kỳ 5): Khi Gia Đình Không Là Nơi Trú Ẩn"