'Admit what you did': woman calls out alleged rapist 23 years later

April 17, 2022 - 07:53

This week a woman publically described, in detail, how she was raped 23 years ago at the office of a newspaper by a man who is now a member of the Việt Nam Association of Writers and the paper's deputy editor.


Illustration by Trịnh Lập

by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà

Amid all the business frauds and news on Russia-Ukraine conflict, this week a woman publically described, in detail, how she was allegedly raped 23 years ago at the office of a literary newspaper by a man who is now a member of the Việt Nam Association of Writers and the paper's deputy editor.

By publicly posting on her private Facebook account, she has shown the bravery to stand up for herself and many other women who have gone through similar circumstances but could not speak up for themselves.

Dạ Thảo Phương, the pen name of the female writer who named her perpetrator and provided a hand-written account of what happened, has demanded the man accept his misdemeanours and the mental damage he has caused her for the past 23 years, and has provided three-witnesses.

No longer residing in the literary circle in Việt Nam, and currently residing abroad, she decided to re-open this old wound to complete her healing.

"It's been more than 20 now," said artist Lê Tâm, who witnessed the incident more than 20 years ago. "But even if it were longer than that, say 100 years, it still needs to be addressed."

A print copy of this letter has also been sent to the Vietnam Association of Writers, where Lương Ngọc An, the accused, is an active member.

After consideration and discussing the matter with the man in question, the association sent a reply to Dạ Thảo Phương, signed by the Association President Nguyễn Quang Thiều, who used to work at the Literary newspaper and was a senior of Phương.

"The Vietnam Writers Association is willing to closely coordinate with legal authorities at request to protect all parties' reputation and legal rights," it said.

This reply sounds legally correct, but it doesn't take into account any of the serious matters being discussed: continued sexual harassment at work, denial of the then management of the newspaper and lack of acknowledgement of the devastating mental consequences of the victim. 

On one hand, the letter was correct in that the association cannot act in place of agencies legally authorised to investigate. But on the other hand, it doesn't show any empathy for the woman who decided to break her silence and get all the men involved to speak up. 

Many have spoken up, men and women, to address this matter, to stand with the victim and demand that the perpetrator take appropriate action.

"This is a direct attack on the male hierarchy of power in Việt Nam, where a woman stands up to fight a corrupted bunch of so-called artists, failed office rules and the association," read one comment.  

Another comment said: "The accusation relating to sexual harassment at work is taken very seriously. An official investigation must be carried out with all parties involved, and final results announced. The office management cannot perform an investigation instead of the police, but they need to take the incident seriously."

The comment added that reports on sexual harassment in the workplace were always taken very seriously in his former international offices. Men had to either retire or have their careers terminated. 

Việt Nam has its Law on Complaints and Denunciations, approved and effective since 2020, where within seven days, public offices receiving complaints must answer the letter of complaints. If the case needs to be halted or dissolved, reasons must be stated publicly. If the case requires an investigation, the conclusion or results must be made public. 

On the opposite side, some fellow women writers even blamed the victim; they did not want to hear the story so covered it up with excuses that it happened so long ago, or suggested that if the woman did not give the green light, the man would not proceed.

It's enlightening to know that this primitive way of thinking still exists, where you read about news of politicians losing jobs and careers after being accused of harassment in the workplace. 

This story has been brought to life nearly a quarter of a century since it happened. But it still holds value today: sex without consent is a crime. The incident will encourage women to speak out and fight for their safety and rights.

We have every reason to believe this incident shall set the path for better education for men and young boys on how to train themselves in relationships with women, and how women need to speak up, stand up and fight for justice together, with support from both men and women. VNS