Domestic violence considered "normal' by many wives

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Thuy, 30, remembers the day her husband threatened to beat her if she refused to engage in unprotected sex with him.

They were both HIV positive, and she feared that not using a condom would result in a super infection a condition in which an HIV-positive person contracts a secondary strain resulting in resistance to medication.

The couple reside in Bien Hoa Town in Dong Nai Province, 35 kilometers to the northeast of Ho Chi Minh City, and tested positive for HIV in 2007. Thuy doesn't know where she initially contracted the virus, but she assumes it was from her husband, an intravenous drug user.

"He also threatened to kick me out of the house if I refused," Thuy told Thanh Nien Weekly, adding that they haven't officially registered their marriage and she has never thought about leaving him.

Thuy's case is common in Vietnam. One in three women [who have been married] reported suffering physical or sexual violence from their husbands at some point in their lives, according to a study jointly released Thursday (November 25) by the United Nations and the Vietnamese government.

The study was conducted by the Vietnam's General Statistics Office (GSO) with technical assistance from the World Health Organization (WHO) and participation of consultants at the Ministry of Health.

The findings were derived from interviews with 4,838 women between 18 and 60 years old.

"For the first time, a study seeks to obtain detailed information nationwide about the prevalence, frequencies and types of violence against women," said Tran Thi Hang, GSO's deputy general director.

According to the study, more than half (58 percent) of Vietnamese women report experiencing at least one type of domestic violence in their lifetime either physical, sexual or emotional violence.

"In the south-east region [ ... ] 42 percent of women report having experienced physical or sexual violence by their husbands at some time," according to a statement that accompanied the release of the report.

Suffering in silence

"Although domestic violence is widespread, the problem is very much hidden," said Henrica Jansen, the lead researcher of the study.

"The stigma and shame causes [victims] to remain silent, many women think that violence in relationships is "˜normal' and that women should tolerate and endure what is happening to them for the sake of family harmony," Jansen said.

One in two women told the researchers that they had never told anyone about the abuse they had suffered at the hands of their husbands.

Thirty-year-old Thu Tuyen, an HIV-positive woman in HCMC, said she would have begged her husband to spare her if only she'd known he was engaging in intravenous drug use.

"It's a domestic matter and we should find a solution by ourselves," she said. "It would be a shame to tell others."

In 1998, Tuyen quit the 12th grade and married a man who worked at a fish processing factory in HCMC. Two years later, the husband became a drug addict.

In 2001, she decided to leave him and brought her newborn son along with her.

In 2004, after suffering regular fatigue and illness, she tested positive for HIV which she believes she contracted from her husband. Four years later, he died from AIDS-related illnesses.

After discovering her health status, Tuyen attempted to commit suicide on two separate occasions: first, by taking an overdose of sleeping pills, and later, by jumping off a skyscraper. Luckily, her son tested negative for the virus.

She has since recovered and is working as an active HIV peer educator in HCMC.

"All too often, women do not report or speak about the violence they experience," said Dr. Jean Marc Olivé, the WHO Representative for Vietnam. "As one woman said "˜I did not ask for help because even if I asked, no one would come.' Often women do not speak out because they are afraid they will be blamed for their husband's violent behavior. And when women do seek help, all too often, they are pressured to accept the situation, to "˜endure' and keep silent."

Olivé expressed alarm that the home has become one of the most dangerous places for a Vietnamese woman to be in.

"It is a stark fact that women in Vietnam are more at risk of experiencing violence in their homes than anywhere else," he said.

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