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Improvements to access to justice for women survivors of sexual violence recommended in Ha Noi

Hanoi (Viet Nam), 8 December 2015 - In Southeast Asia, there are currently numerous gaps in laws criminalizing violence against women, which is frequently seen as a private matter that takes place behind closed doors. Accordingly, ensuring policies are enacted to prevent violence against women, as well as ensuring access to justice for victims, is amongst UNODC's priorities in the region. Achieving this goal will require regional Governments to prevent sexual violence, protect women, prosecute and punish perpetrators, and provide redress and reparations to survivors.

These messages were emphasized at a recent policy dialogue organized by UNODC, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), and CSAGA with support of GBVNet, Care International, Plan International and ISDS. The policy dialogue "Access to justice for women survivors of sexual violence in Viet Nam" attracted more than 80 participants including both central and provincial law enforcement authorities, NGOs working on gender-based violence, development partners, the UN and the media.

Despite the fact that there is no nation-wide comprehensive data that has been collected regarding different forms of sexual violence in Viet Nam, small-scale studies show a high incidence of sexual violence occurring in Viet Nam. The evidence also suggests sexual violence is under-reported and the nature of these cases is often misunderstood.
The workshop emphasized that:

Sexual violence can also occur within the family or in locations considered to be 'secure' or 'peaceful'. There is a myth that 'real rape' involves strangers, force and/or physical injury. However, a recent review of 462 rape and sexual assault case files shows that this view does not reflect reality. In 86% of cases the suspect was known to the victim and the majority of incidents took place in a private space with no physical injuries resulting.

"Violence against women and girls is a severe and pervasive problem, yet it is one of the least prosecuted crimes in the world", said Mr. Chris Batt, UNODC Officer-In-Charge in Viet Nam. "In addition, the topic of sexual violence is often considered too sensitive to discuss in public particularly because of the stigma associated with this crime, which keeps those who are victimized silent about their abuse."

During the policy dialogue, participants shared personal stories of the difficulties faced by sexual violence survivors when seeking justice. The absence of clear definitions and laws, particularly in the case of sexual harassment, gaps in policies and law on sexual violence, as well as a lack of knowledge and understanding about gender stereotyping held by justice providers, were highlighted as key concerns by participants.

"The process of collecting evidence and interviewing the victims in Vietnam is still overlapped. The victims have to answer and provide information of their problems many times, which recalls their bad memories they have experienced." said Mr. Nguyen Van Tu, a Vietnamese lawyer who is directly managing a serious domestic violence case in Viet Nam. "It is highly recommended that we revise this process in order not to make worse the victim's pain."

In the meeting, participants also discussed how to improve current policies and laws, and they shared their views about what would constitute the best solutions to this challenge moving forward. The recommendations of the workshop will be summarized and forwarded to relevant authorities.

"The silence related to sexual violence against women and girls must be broken. To effectively respond to this situation, we need a long-term, systemic and comprehensive approach that recognizes and protects women's full and equal human rights," Mr. Batt stressed.

The dialogue today is part of the international campaign "16 Days of Activism to End Violence against Women and Girls" led by United Nations Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon in order to clearly deliver the message that there will be zero tolerance for sexual violence, as well as other forms of violence against women and girls, around the world.