No should never mean yes

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Secretary of the Da Nang Communist Party Nguyen Ba Thanh is famous for his unconventional ideas, my favorite of which is the meeting he organized last August for men who have abused their wives.

Thanh personally sent invitations to local men known or thought to have committed acts of violence against their spouses.

At the meeting, Thanh urged the husbands to change their ways and also gave them an open forum in which to express their ideas and feelings. Thanh made sure he discussed Vietnam’s domestic violence laws so that all in attendance understood them.

I wish I had been there to speak with Thanh (but luckily for me and my wife I wasn’t invited), because I have a few questions about a recent government decree guiding the enforcement of the Domestic Violence Law.

The decree states that from January 27, 2010, those who coerce their spouse into sex will be fined from VND500,000 to VND1 million (US$27.07-54.14).

The more specific the penalties are, the more easily the law is enforced. But I think the clause about the fine for sexuality coercion will be extremely difficult to enforce.

Firstly, once a couple is husband and wife, under Vietnamese law all money owned by each spouse is joint property. Therefore, when one spouse is fined, the other may regret it just as much. This, in my opinion, will have a low deterrent effect.

Secondly, if one partner is fined for forcing their spouse in sex, they may simply decide next time to just take the money to a prostitute instead, which is easier and cheaper. The decree could have the double negative of harming a family economy while fueling the market for illegal sex.

Last but not least, when one spouse is tired, sleepy or upset but the other keeps asking for sex and is refused, then the latter could sue their husband/wife for “neglect” under the Domestic Violence Law. Lawyers around the nation will have a lot of work to do.

Meanwhile, evidence of coerced sex will not be easily investigated. Even when the evidence is found and a violator is fined, the spouse may regret losing the money as well. There is a high possibility that most people would then choose not to press charges, thus leaving domestic violence unhindered.

Many times I’ve wondered how Thanh would solve the problems.

If I had to solve it myself, I’d suggest that the spousal abuser be forced to do the housework until they’re too tired to coerce their partner again. But who will supervise them? I have no answer.

Either way, the decree shows that our society is fighting harder against domestic violence. However, it would be better if those who are fined are in turn deterred. And it would be even better if everyone was well educated and self-respecting with sympathy for others. Then domestic violence would no longer exist and lawyers and judges would be unemployed. Sounds great.

By Nguyen The Thinh

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