The recent murder of a Korean woman in Gangnam is being used to bring attention to the issue of violent crime against women. Now Vice News has jumped on the bandwagon to publish an article criticizing a culture that allows violent crimes against women in South Korea to occur:
For years now, South Korea has been trying to build a legal system to deal with the problem. As Dr Kyungja Jung, of the University of Technology Sydney told me, the country has come far since the days when police themselves would sexually assault detained female activists.”There has been tremendous changes in legislation, services, and programs for the victims,” she said.
Neither is South Korea the only country struggling with the issue. All countries experience some baseline level of sexism and the latest numbers from the World Health Organisation suggest 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced sexual violence.
But South Korea, a country with one of the most influential youth cultures in Asia, is also a society with a deep gender inequality according to the World Economic Forum which ranks the nation 117 out of 142, putting it alongside Qatar and Nigeria.
This is a subject Koreans do not like to discuss, partly because defamation laws in the country are strong, making criticism of the government, police, or major corporations dangerous. Many of those I contacted over the last two weeks were afraid to talk for fear of a lawsuit, though few would say so outright.
When they responded, they were often “too busy.” One person who worked in a frontline support service for rape victims told someone who had contacted them on my behalf: “This is a sensitive issue and I am Korean.”
Those more willing to speak out were young activists. One male activist who worked on a team which monitored rapists on Sora.net told me that in 1995, seven out of 10 women were victims of violent crimes, but that number has increased to nine out of 10. Because I can’t speak Korean, I cannot easily verify those numbers, but I asked him why he thought that was. [Vice News]
You can read much more at the link, but in my opinion this article is poor journalism which this last excerpted paragraph is an example of. The writer admits that he can’t verify the statistic that 9 out of 10 women in South Korea were victims of violent crimes, but went ahead and published it anyway. If 90% of the women in Korea are victims of violent crime there would be a political revolution to improve public safety. The President is a woman so does anyone think she would stand for such a thing?
A random murder by a mentally deranged homeless person that had been in and out of psychiatric hospitals does not suddenly make South Korea a haven for violent crime against women. Speaking of this murderer the article made no mention that he was schizophrenic and instead led readers to believe he simply killed the woman because he hated women. This narrative is about as honest as the “gentle giant” narrative used by the US media after the Michael Brown shooting.
As far as some of the other examples used in the article such as the Australian woman interviewed and the man acquitted of rape because he had a curved man part I would like to hear the other side of the story because often these stories are never as simple as advocates claim them to be. With that all said the premise that South Korea has a problem investigating sexual assault cases I think is true, I just hate tabloid journalism being used to make this point.
In the past South Korean authorities were just incompetent with dealing with violent crime against women. I can remember when a US soldier was raped shortly after she arrived at Incheon International Airport and the rapist was acquitted because the soldier did not resist enough. In another case the sentencing for rape was so light that whether the suspect committed robbery as was the focus of the case because it had more jail time. Then there is this case of a foreign English teacher who was brutally raped and forced to suffer police incompetence afterwards. Finally who can forget the Miryang Gang Rape case which was just a travesty.
I do have to admit that things have gotten better in recent years such as South Korea finally barring teachers convicted of sex crimes of getting their jobs back. Even the ROK military has launched a campaign to crackdown on sexual assault and harassment within their ranks which they have long been known for. What do the statistics say? Well they say arrests for rape have skyrocketed over the last decade.
Statistics from the Korean National Police Agency.
It is important to keep in mind that just because arrests are up this does not necessarily mean that rape is up. It can be argued that due to awareness campaigns in South Korea women are now more likely to report rape and the police are taking the allegations more seriously.
How do these statistics stack up against the United States? With a population of 51 million people in South Korea and 20,045 rape arrests in 2014 this has a occurence rate of 1 in 2,544 people. The Department of Justice reported 284,350 rapes in the United States in 2014 and with a population of 318 million this comes out to an occurrence rate of 1 in 1,118 people. This is higher than South Korea, but keep in mind difference in statistic compilation does make comparisons difficult, but does give an indication that rapes are lower in South Korea than the US.
Today I think the problem is mostly how Korean police look differently at alcohol related sexual assaults than other countries. If Korea is like the US, the vast majority of rape cases are probably he said/she said cases that involve alcohol. When alcohol is involved South Korean authorities are well known for showing more leniency towards perpetrators though in recent years there has been some changes to the law. In the United States alcohol is not considered the mitigating factor for committing crime like it is in South Korea. In fact at least in the US military alcohol has been used as factor to over prosecute people for sexual assault.
This is an area I think women in Korea need to be aware of that a date rape type of scenario after a night of drinking alcohol, it is likely to be more difficult to get Korean authorities to vigorously investigate and prosecute the perpetrator. So looking at the facts South Korea does not necessarily have a violent crime problem against women, it just has a different perspective in regards to how vigorously it will prosecute these crimes when it involves alcohol. This perspective appears to be slowly changing with the increased rape arrests and I would not be surprised if arrests continue to increase in the coming years as societal attitudes towards the crime continue to change.