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  • Jullianne Pham

Domestic Violence: A Silent Issue Facing Vietnamese American Women

In the Vietnamese culture, husbands are expected to hold dominant positions in the family. There is no doubt conflicts will arise when patriarchal beliefs changes. Norms and values between husbands and wives are shifting as assimilation takes place in America. As a result, domestic abuse arises--especially due to changes in socioeconomic structure and culture.

For Vietnamese Americans, women’s economic contributions do not reduce their husbands’ dominant positions or violence, and economic hardships facing immigrants also prevent women from leaving abusive relationships. Traditional familial values, traditional female roles, and perceptions of racial discrimination are a few among many factors that prevent Vietnamese American women from relying on public help to cope with the abuse. Though help is available, due to the language barrier, women may not know where to go to seek for help. In San Jose, Asian Women’s Home is the anti-domestic violence and human trafficking program of Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI) where help is offered to victims with cultural sensitivity and in different languages.

Let's explore this issue in the Country of Vietnam:

Domestic violence is a major public health problem that strikes couples of all races, socio-economic status, religions, and sexual orientations. The 2010 Viet Nam National Study that was conducted by Vietnam’s General Statistics Office and the World Health Organization on domestic violence has revealed that 58.3% of married women have experienced at least emotional, physical, or sexual domestic violence at some point in their relationships. However, only 13% of the abused women sought help from the justice system. The UNODC, with their Regional Program for South East Asia, has made strides to strengthen the legal and policy frameworks for the criminal justice response to violence against women.

Unfortunately, as seen within the Vietnamese culture, violence against women is still seen as a private matter that only takes place behind closed doors of the family. Needless to say, there is nothing except shortcomings for the investigations of prosecutions of the domestic violence. The UNODC conducted a report in November 2013 with the UN Women and UNFPA that assessed the situation of women in the criminal justice system in Vietnam. It was found that women were encouraged to deal with violence outside of the justice system, and so the rates of women reporting violence were extremely low with victims referring to their local community for assistance instead of becoming involved with the criminal justice system to seek solutions.

Cultural elements have made addressing this issue a challenge, and domestic violence has become a silent problem.

The women who were interviewed in the study provided hidden aspects of their lives and relationships, and many had never spoken of such things before they were interviewed. However, the northern region of Vietnam has done much to raise more awareness of domestic violence in 2003. The Ninh Binh Province has the Swiss Cooperation Office working with the People’s Committee and Women’s Union to conduct focus groups with both victims and their abusers. These sessions have been shown to be successful. Hanoi has a shelter, Peace House, for battered women. The Peace House has a kindergarten for young children, and women are taught skills to help them find employment. The Peace House also allows women to make decisions of returning to their husbands, or rebuilding a life on their own. Buddhist pagodas, such as Tin Cay Cong Dong in the Tan Phu District, also provide women and their children with shelter as ad hoc setups. Victims seek help from the pagoda, but the police are not called and the women are not taken hospitals or doctors. The women generally stay until their husbands apologize for their actions, and the head nun would question them to see if their apology is sincere enough for the wives to return to them. However, many believe that these options such as the Tin Cay Cong Dong, downplay the severity of the violence that women are subjected to.

In 2007, the Law on Domestic Violence Prevention and Control was enacted to force the local government to seriously address the issue. Many popular Vietnamese celebrities act as spokespeople at concerts to raise awareness about gender-based violence. Education plays an important role in providing individuals with the knowledge of what domestic violence is, how it happens, and how to cope with it. The UNODC conducts awareness raising campaigns in the community to create efforts of breaking the silence. The UNODC has also been training local law enforcement officers to better equip them on responding to domestic violence cases. The government of Vietnam has initiated a number of reforms to address domestic violence in their country with the support of the UN. They launched a “National Program of Action against Domestic Violence through 2020” in 2014. As part of the country’s program policy frameworks and legal norms, Vietnam is hoping to address the gender inequality, inequity, discrimination, and gender-based violence through the justice sector.

Additional Resources:

If you are a victim of domestic violence, you can seek help with the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-787-3224.

AACI - Contact their 24-hour crisis hotline (408) 975-2739 or online chat system (Vietnamese speakers are available).

Watch our Chopsticks Alley Talk as we explore this topic how it affects Vietnamese Americans locally.If you like stories like this, subscribe to Chopsticks Alley.

Jullianne Pham


With her driving passion of health sciences, Jullianne aims to provide service, research, and education towards Asian-American communities in order to close the gap of health disparities that people of color face. She has worked alongside physicians and surgeons in the San Joaquin County as a Decision Medicine Intern, and has worked closely with the Vietnamese-American community in the Bay Area to raise awareness about unspoken diseases as a Community Health Outreach Intern at the Asian Liver Center of Stanford University. As an aspiring Physician Assistant with a concentrated service within the Asian-American community, Jullianne hopes to discuss and expose the unspoken diseases and health issues that do not create dialogue within the Vietnamese household and community.

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