Girls gone wild

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Pham Tuong Vi, a seventeen year old drop-out, pulled Anh's hair and kneed her in the face.

The beating taken by Nguyen Quynh Anh, a 16- year-old student from Tran Nhan Tong High School, was viewed 5,000 times after a video of the affair was posted online last week.

Hanoi police said on March 15 that the incident had begun when Anh stepped on classmate Vu Ngoc Diep's foot. Diep asked her friend Vi, a former To Hoang Junior High School student, to beat up Anh as revenge.

Petty but violent vengeance has been on the rise among teen girls in Vietnam, educators and police investigators say, and it appears to be at least in part fueled by Internet and camera access and the ability to post such fights online.

Chu Minh Huyen, 16, also from Tran Nhan Tong school, had videoed Vi beating Anh and sent it to Mai Thuy Linh, 16-year-old daughter of a police officer and student at Doan Kiet High School. Linh said Vi then told her to post it online. All the girls are in tenth grade.

The minute-long clip showed five other students, including unidentified drop-outs at the scene of the beating. Some laughed, some occasionally contributed to the fight while Anh didn't react at all . Vi only stopped the beating when one of the students and a passer-by threatened to call the police.

On March 17, Tran Nhan Tong High School said all its students involved in the fight, including Anh and those watching, would have their behavior level lowered by one. Beside academic performance, Vietnamese schools rate student's behavior on one of four levels: excellent, good, average and bad.

Diep and Huyen will be expelled for any more wrongdoings this year, the school said. Anh also got one year's probation for failing to report the incident to authorities. If she is responsible for another wrongdoing during the period, she will be given a "bad" in behavior, which means she'll have to repeat the grade.

Vi and other drop-outs will be left for police to handle.

Hanoi police started investigating the case on March 12 under a request by Hanoi Department of Education and Training. Investigators said earlier that they would leave punishment for the department so that the girls can continue their schooling.

Instant access

In just two hours online on March 10, the video of the fight attracted 5,000 views on Flickr until Linh removed it. But many viewers had downloaded it and spread it further.

"Geez, normal!" said one viewer comment, echoing the sentiment expressed by many users who said such scenes were commonplace now.

Talking to the police on March 15, Vi said the story was "nothing big."

"I'm not afraid of going to jail," she was quoted by local news website VnExpress as saying. "I'll be punished justly for what I've done."

Linh seemed surprised by all the attention the fight had gotten. "I didn't foresee the problem would become this complicated," she told the newswire.

Trendsetting

The beating was the fifth video clip of Vietnamese schoolgirls fighting posted online in recent months. Education officials and teachers said they were worried students no longer had a sense of dignity and mercy.

Nguyen Hiep Thong, director of Hanoi education department, said he was "very angry watching the video" as the incident took place in a public place and no adults interfered while other students watched indifferently.

Last December, several seventh-grade girls at Chu Van An Junior High in Ho Chi Minh City also beat a classmate and recorded the incident on their cell phones. A teacher discovered the beating when she confiscated phones students were using in class.

Teacher-appointed "class leaders" were involved in the beating. They had the class keys, so they locked the door to beat the victim uninhibited, said Vo Minh Tuan Kiet, the school principal. They said they wanted to "teach her a lesson" for whistle-blowing.

Tran Quang Quy, Deputy Minister of Education and Training, has ordered education departments across the country to take steps to prevent violence among students.

Colonel Nguyen Duc Chung from the Hanoi police suggested the city education department tighten truancy regulations and ban the use of cell phones until 12th grade like in Britain and Australia.

Psychologist Dinh Phuong Duy in Ho Chi Minh City said the students seen sitting around in the latest video seemed to have grown desensitized to violence and had no compassion left.

"This is the result of an ignorance that began growing its roots a long time ago."

Nguyen Hoang Khac Hieu, psychology professor at HCMC Education University, said the students sitting around might be afraid of being caught in the beating or of being criticized for getting involved in other people's business.

"It's sad as that good act is now considered bad."

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