A few days ago the following happened in Hanoi, and I honestly do not know if our action helped the women or did it make it all worse?
As background I had been reading the Vietnam Views Opinion site, and their next weeks question regarding women abuses (mostly inside marriage). Later same evening we were going home, buy some of the narrow streets, it was dark, but not late, around 6-7pm. In one of the darke spot in the narrow lane, we see a young man and women having an argue, or are they fighting??? We passes, but stops after a couple of meters, turn around to ensure the women/girl is not hit. As we are looking, the girl starts running away, and the young man follows. But we put out our arms (i.e. my 100kg 1.95cm husband did so) and temporarily stopped the guy from following. He stopped, looked at us, and seemed obviously scared. Then he continued walking next to us, quite calm. In the next cross road, he see the girl agian, and runs after her. When we catch up (we just contunie walking) he drag the girls backwards to a darker spot. Again we stopped, turned around and keep watching but not interfering. But after a while we were afraid he should start hitting the girl, so my husband went towards them to check up that none get harmed. When close enough, the girl just waved him away indicating everything is Ok , or meaning stay away and let me/us solve it ourselves.
Since she had got the opportunity to run away, but (in our mind) not taken it completely, we left them by themselves and continued our walk bck to our hotel. But we could not stop wondering did we do the right thing? Was it wrong to interfere the first time? Did we add any help or did we just make the situation worse?
We are Scandinaviens, in our 40's, travelling on our third 90 days visum in Vietnam since 2010, just to let the forum understand we are not completely unfamiliar with Vietnam.
Thankful for responses and hint&tips for how to react next time (if there will be a similuar situation)
That's not an easy one.
I can fully understand your initial reaction of trying to protect her. Your western instincts & ethics kicked automatically in.
Has it helped her? Probably not. Should you do it again if it happens again? Probably also not.
First of all you didn't know what the argument was about since you don't know the language. It could have been anything really. Who can tell she was completely innocent here? Perhaps she stole money, cheated or done something else. Doesn't mean that he would have a right to hit her if she did but it could certainly explain the heated debate.
And if it was a case of abuse from his side, your interference probably hasn't helped anything. Perhaps if you had gone further he might actually have lost face and that could have worsened things.
As sad and as hard it may be, I always try to steer clear of the situation unless I know exactly what the problem is and what happened. To get involved as a foreigner without proper knowledge would be unwise.
And I have lived in Vietnam for a year as well but surely don't have the idea to know the culture well. My advise is mostly based on common sense and travel experience.
I can't speak for having seen abuse in SE Asia, but from my experience it is probably best as a foreigner to stay out of it. In China, if anything goes wrong and you are there as a foreigner you can't expect the police (or even the women) to take your side - that goes for any type of incident be it man-women man-man or group-individual. It may sound callous, but for your own safety it is better to not get involved. I wouldn't say it is only an Asian country thing either. When I was in the Ukraine many years back a man was getting his jaw beat in by another guy's knee (with the help of his hand on the back of his head). I stepped forward and got my arm caught by my Ukrainian companion who simply looked at me with a "are you crazy trying to step over to that" expression on her face.
No matter what, it isn't your size vs. their size that is the issue, but rather the fact that you are a foreigner and they are a local.
I am with Eastwest and Casey in that this is a difficult one and I can't proffer good advice better than what they have. I had a similar incident right in front of my house - two times. On both occassions I chose to intervene physically, and on both occassions the men in question backed down. But I am fortunate in that I live in a small city, know the police here reasonably well, and feel they would have supported me (as would my neighbors). However, we've had four shootings on my street since I have lived here, and the possibility that I could have ended up shot was not an obscure, theoretical one. At the end of the day, you have to follow your consience (or at least I do) which may not be in your own self-interest. Under the conditions you described, I think you did the best you could.
Thanks for your time, and for enligthning a few more dimencions of the issue for me. I probably think twice before interfere between adults, but if I really think I can make a difference, I will still go with my gut feeling.