At the turn of the century, talk to any Vietnamese about their country and they would say two things. They would mention the poverty. “We are a poor country,” they would say. Then they would move onto peace. After 50 years of war, it amazed them that Vietnam was a safe place to live.
During the early part of the last decade it was very safe. Unless you found yourself in a motorbike accident — where at times foreigners would be on the wrong side of local retribution — or unless you had a bag snatched in Ho Chi Minh City or Vung Tau, you didn’t encounter physical danger. Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City were the kind of places where both men and women could walk at night without fear of physical harm.
In 2008, that sense of personal safety was crushed. A British journalist walking home by herself in Saigon’s District 3 was stabbed. She survived and the wound, which pierced her stomach, didn’t get infected. She was lucky. But it was a sign of times to come.
Since then stories have entered the press of women having bags snatched with their arms cut off in the process. A taxi driver was murdered this year by his two female customers after an argument over the fare. And the girlfriend of an acquaintance died in a motorbike accident after her bag was snatched and the bike crashed. Her boyfriend survived, she didn’t.
The latest concerns for physical safety have come in the West Lake area of Hanoi.
Last month this post appeared on the Facebook Group, Hanoi Massive - A New Era.
“Take care around West Lake after dark,” wrote the poster. “I had to intervene in what I believe would have been the sexual assault of a foreign woman walking on the lake road near Red River Tearoom (from where she was leaving) at around 9.30pm last night. A Vietnamese guy on a motorbike (red helmet) was harassing her and had to be chased several times before he left the scene. If you’re on your own, stick to well-lit, busy streets or grab a taxi. Take care and be safe!”
This is not an isolated incident. One person responded:
“There used to be a guy on a Honda Dream with no plates buzzing around Tay Ho groping women at night. He was doing it on and off for years. A few people nearly caught him but he always got away.”
A woman added her personal experience.
“This is my story! Exactly!!” she wrote. “It happened to me half a year ago. West Lake. It was not late, maybe about 10pm. The street was illuminated well. But I wasn’t shy. I kicked him when he stopped behind me. I was fighting with him, and I won. Then several fishermen pulled me away from him and called the police.”
On the Prowl
Two days later another incident occurred, this time close to HRC. The woman affected posted on the Facebook group, Hanoi Girl Gone International. Driving home, a Vietnamese man tried to grab her off her motorbike, causing her to crash. When she came off the bike he chased her down the road. She got away. The man was lying in wait for someone to come along.
Around the same time another expat woman was attacked and beaten senseless by three men outside Sidewalk before being taken advantage of. The victim reported the incident to the US Embassy whose security team got involved. However, her experience at the French Hospital was terrible. “[They] brushed it off to the side and took no DNA evidence, nor tested my blood for drugs.”
We have also heard that last month a 17-year-old schoolgirl was assaulted in the same area.
Vietnam’s big cities are no longer safe, and women need to take care at night, especially if they are alone. That’s common sense, but it’s important.
Action needs to be taken. When the journalist was stabbed, the man was caught and went to prison. When the woman had her arm cut off on Phu My Bridge in Saigon, the group that carried out the attack was executed as a lesson to others.
There is obviously at least one man prowling the West Lake area of Hanoi as well as one or two other groups of men searching out victims. Take care. They need to be caught. If you see them, get the police. Report them. If possible, write down their licence plate number. If you see someone in need, and you are able to help, do so. Don’t turn a blind eye. Until these people are caught, the attacks will continue.
The physical safety of women is at stake here and it needs to be protected.