Sex abuse of girl: Social media fury spurs arrest of suspect

Madam Nga walking towards a Hanoi residential quarter where her daughter was molested in January. The suspect was nabbed this month after public outrage spilt onto Facebook.
Madam Nga walking towards a Hanoi residential quarter where her daughter was molested in January. The suspect was nabbed this month after public outrage spilt onto Facebook.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HANOI • Vietnamese police took three months to respond seriously to allegations that an eight-year-old girl had been molested, but then outrage spilt onto Facebook and they made an arrest in days - a rare win for public opinion in the communist country.

The girl was sexually abused by a family friend in Hanoi in January, but the complaint by her enraged mother fell on deaf ears. That was until the news spun out on social media with the Facebook community demanding to know why pleas for legal action went unanswered.

Suddenly last week, a deputy prime minister called on police to take the case seriously and the suspect was arrested - offering a window into how the wheels of justice turn in Vietnam.

But the ordeal is not over for the young victim who still wails in her sleep, according to her distraught mother Nga. "Doctors said there were signs of sexual violence," said Madam Nga, whose name has been changed to protect the victim's identity. "It's been heartbreaking seeing her cry in her sleep, still in so much fear."

With no independent media in Vietnam, many people turn to social media to share public opinion. But even popular sites like Facebook are closely monitored by the communist authorities, ready to jail anyone veering too far into territory deemed incendiary. Last week's Facebook furore prompted a different kind of reaction from officials in a country that has made the headlines for paedophilia before.

In 2006, British rocker Gary Glitter was convicted of molesting children as young as 10 in Vietnam.

But the country has mostly avoided the headline-grabbing molestation cases seen in neighbouring Thailand or Malaysia.

According to police figures, there are about 1,000 reported cases of sexual abuse in Vietnam every year.

Recent data and the publicised cases "are just the tip of the iceberg", Unicef Vietnam's child expert Vijaya Ratnam Raman said. "They may be shamed or blame themselves. There may be threats of violence, and sometimes, they don't have faith in the situation and the system."

Cultural factors also discourage victims from speaking out.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2017, with the headline 'Sex abuse of girl: Social media fury spurs arrest of suspect'. Print Edition | Subscribe