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Outrage in Vietnam over $8 fine for elevator sexual assault

Official data on sexual harassment is not routinely published in Vietnam, though 87 percent of women and girls experienced sexual harassment in public, according to a 2014 survey of 2,000 women by the NGO ActionAid
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Hanoi (AFP)

Vietnamese citizens were outraged after a man was fined $8 for forcibly kissing a woman in an elevator, a rare public outburst in a country where sexual assault is scarcely spoken about openly.

The #MeToo movement never took off in Vietnam, a conservative communist country where gender-based violence is widespread but remains a taboo topic.

Citizens took to social media this week after a man was fined 200,000 dong, or $8.61, for forcibly kissing a woman in an elevator in her Hanoi apartment building.

CCTV footage showed the man chatting to the woman before cornering her and suddenly jumping on her before she scrambles out of the elevator as he grabbed her arm.

The footage quickly went viral, stoking public anger.

"The fine... was a mockery and humiliation against the dignity of Vietnamese women," said Facebook user Duong Dai Trieu Lam on Wednesday.

Office worker Nguyen Trang told AFP: "It's ridiculous, I can't accept this... I'm worried for my kids and myself".

Unlike rape, sexual assault is not a criminal offence in Vietnam, but is considered an administrative violation falling under the category of "indecent speech and behaviour". The maximum fine for sexual assault is $13.

An online petition calling for an amendment to the law gathered steam Wednesday.

Official data on sexual harassment is not routinely published in Vietnam, though 87 percent of women and girls experienced sexual harassment in public, according to a 2014 survey of 2,000 women by the NGO ActionAid.

The last comprehensive survey on gender violence in 2010 published by the World Health Organization and the Vietnamese government said 34 percent of women reported regular abuse by their spouses.

Many are too scared to report the abuse, said Khuat Thu Hong, director of the Institute for Social Development Studies, who welcomed the public outcry following the elevator attack.

"The reaction is a good sign, society has shown its support to those who are courageous to speak out," Hong told AFP.

This is not the first time tales of sexual harassment in Vietnam have gone public.

In 2017 model and actress Vu Thu Phuong said she was harassed by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, but her story failed to spark a wider #MeToo movement seen elsewhere in Asia, including in China and South Korea.

Last year an intern at a major newspaper said she had attempted suicide after she was allegedly raped by her editor, which he denied. The case was reported to the police but no charges have been laid.

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