Groping in Korea: Just How Bad Is It?

(Source: leftycartoons)

I never did think that women should consider street harassment as flattering of course. But still, this cartoon is eerily effective in getting that message across. It’s no wonder that’s it’s received nearly 300 comments over at Sociological Images.

Most of those dealing with the US though, now I’m curious as to how bad street harassment is in Korea in comparison. And in hindsight I realize that I’ve largely overlooked that in favor of covering workplace discrimination previously, most recently the landmark sexual harassment lawsuit against Samsung.

I did know about bbikkie (삐끼) though, or men that literally drag attractive women into nightclubs to encourage men to spend their money there (see here also); that Korean dating culture actually condones stalking; that this sometimes affects foreign women (see #12 here); and that Caucasian women especially are hypersexualized by the Korean media and/or often get confused for Russian prostitutes; and so on.

But groping? I’d never really thought about it, except in passing. After all, what guy does?

Hence my surprise and naivety at discovering that it’s not a problem confined to subways, and in fact was a pervasive problem among crowds during the World Cup, as the following report I’ve translated makes clear. And, even in broad daylight today too, as Krista of Salt City Girl wrote in her email to me that I’ve posted after that.

(Source: Sinfest)

“골인” 환호 순간에 웬 남자 손이…/ In the Moment of the “Goal in!” Cheer, Some Man’s Hand…

Kim Shi-hyeon, The Chosun Ilbo, June 26 2010

서울의 한 고교 2학년 최모(17)양은 지난 17일 강남구 삼성동 코엑스 앞 영동대로에 월드컵 길거리 응원을 나갔다가 봉변을 당했다. 아르헨티나 에 0 대 2로 뒤지던 전반 막판 이청용의 만회골이 터지자 시민들은 일제히 소리를 지르며 서로를 부둥켜 안았다. 최양도 친구와 손을 붙잡고 팔짝팔짝 뛰었다. 소리를 지르며 정신없이 뛰고 있던 중 갑자기 뒤에서 한 남자가 어깨동무를 하며 다른 손으로 가슴과 엉덩이를 더듬었다. 놀란 최양이 뒤를 돌아보자 20대로 보이는 남자 1명이 순식간에 군중 속으로 사라졌다. 최양은 “남자 얼굴을 제대로 보지 못했고 사람들 속으로 숨어 버려 경찰에 신고도 못했다”면서 “월드컵이라 부모님이 특별히 밤 외출을 허락했는데, 완전히 기분을 망쳤다. 앞으론 절대 길거리 응원은 안 나갈 것”이라고 했다.

Choi Mo-XXX, a 16 year-old (western age) second year high school student in Seoul, had a bad experience on the 17th after she arrived at Yeongdong Road in front of COEX in Samseong-dong, Gangnam-gu to cheer [the Korean team] during the World Cup.

Korea was losing 2-nil, but then at the end of the first half Lee Cheong-yong suddenly exploded back into the game with a goal, and everyone in the crowd cheered in unison and hugged each other, with Choi Mo-XXX too holding tight onto her friend’s hand and jumping up and down. But while she was doing this and not thinking about anything else, a man who was behind her placed one hand on her shoulders and with the other groped her breasts and buttocks.

She turned around, and saw a man who appeared to be in his 20s, who disappeared into the crowd in an instant. She said “I didn’t really see his face, and he disappeared into the crowd so quickly, that there’s really no point in telling the police,” and added that “because this was the World Cup, my parents gave me special permission to come out and cheer with everyone, but now my feelings have been completely ruined. From now on, I’m never going to attend any cheering events like this again.” (Source, right)

월드컵 기간 길거리 응원을 나가는 여성들에게 ‘성추행 경보’가 켜졌다. 남아공 월드컵은 시차 때문에 저녁 8시나 11시, 새벽 3시 30분 등 어두울 때 경기가 열려 성추행 범죄가 일어나기 쉬운 상황이다. 특히 위기대처 능력이 부족한 여자 중·고생들은 성추행을 당하고도 무서워서 가만히 있거나 수치심 때문에 주위에 도움을 청하지도 못하고 있다.

A big “Groping Alert” to women has been issued to women going to the streets to cheer during the World Cup period. Because of the time difference with South Africa, games are played at 8pm, 11pm, 3:30 in the morning, and so on, providing easy opportunities for gropers to strike. Especially women least able to deal with such a situation, such as middle or high school students, may be so scared as to quietly accept the groping and/or through a feeling of shame or disgrace be unable to ask for help.

인터넷 게시판에는 길거리 응원전에 나갔다가 성추행을 당했다는 제보가 끊이지 않고 있다. 네이버 한 카페에서 ID ‘바람’은 “사촌동생이 거리응원 나갔다가 성추행당했다고 그러더라. (이겨서) 너무 좋고 정신없어서 당시엔 잘 몰랐는데 가슴을 대놓고 만졌다고 했다”고 썼다. ID ‘단탈리안’도 “친구가 길거리 응원 나갔는데 계속 가슴에 어떤 남자의 손이 부딪혔다고 했다”는 글을 올렸다.

On internet cafes, there is an unceasing stream of information from women who have been groped during World Cup cheering events. On one Naver cafe, a commenter with the ID “Baram” wrote “My younger cousin said she was groped at a cheering event. Without her realizing at first, while she was concentrating on cheering her breasts were roughly grabbed, with no attempt by the groper to conceal what he was doing”. Another with the ID “Dantallian” posted the message that “When my friend went to a cheering event, a man kept feeling her breasts when she was crushed up against him.”

한 인터넷 커뮤니티에는 “거리응원 가서 생각지도 못하게 여자 가슴 만져서 레알(진짜) 기분좋음 ㅋㅋ” 등 성추행을 한 사실을 밝히는 글도 올라 있다.


[But] On another internet community site, there have been messages like “At a cheering event I touched accidentally touched a women’s breasts. But it (really) felt good LOL”, clearly stating that the writers have groped women.

인터넷에는 16강 진출이 확정된 24일 아침 서울의 한 거리에서 남성 5~6명이 핫팬츠를 입은 여성을 자동차 보닛 위에 올려놓고 성추행을 하는 사진이 떠돌고 있다. 지난 21일 경기도 파주에서는 한국과 아르헨티나전 경기 응원 현장에서 여중생 김모(16)양을 성추행한 40대가 경찰에 입건되기도 했다.

And on the 24th, when it was confirmed that the Korea team had made it through to the first round, a picture of 5 or 6 men lifting a woman in hot pants onto the bonnet of car and groping her was posted around on the internet. Also, on the 21st, when Korea was playing against Argentina, a 40 year-old man was booked in the town of Paju for groping 15 year-old Kim Mo-XXX at a cheering event.

26일 열리는 우루과이 전 길거리 응원에서도 여성들의 각별한 주의가 필요하다. 경찰은 우루과이전에 서울광장 15만명, 영동대로에 12만명, 한강공원 반포지구에 12만명 등 전국에서 182만여명이 응원에 참가할 것이라고 예상했다. 서울경찰청 고평기 여성청소년계장은 “월드컵 길거리 응원을 나갈 때는 혼자 가지 말고 어른들이나 여러 일행과 함께 가는 게 좋다”며 “성추행을 당하면 큰 소리로 ‘싫다’고 소리치고 주변 응원객들에게 알려 붙잡도록 하는 것도 방법”이라고 조언했다.

Women need to take special care on the 26th, when Korea plays Uruguay. The police expect 150,000 people to participate in the cheering event at Seoul Plaza, 120,000 at Yeongdong Road, 120,000 at the Han River Banpo Baseball Stadium, and roughly 1.82 million people nationwide. Seoul City Police Women & Adolescent Crime Division Chief Go Pyeong-gi said that “it is better if you don’t go to the cheering events with older people or in groups rather than going alone,” and recommended that “if you get groped, the best method to deal with it is to scream “I hate this!” to the surrounding crowd to make sure they know what is going on and can help catch the groper.”

And now Krista’s experience, whom I’ll let speak for herself. And thanks again to her for giving me permission to print this part of her email (Source, right):

It seems to me that sex, sexuality, gender and race are somehow at more extremes in Korea.

I have never been as groped or inappropriately grabbed at in my life until coming to South Korea. Just a few days ago, I was assaulted by a man in the rainy streets of Chungju in the middle of the day in front of other men. He had no problem at all with putting his hand in my shirt and grabbing my breast. I have resorted to wearing high-necked tops at all times because of the experience. When I shared this experience with a Korean man, he seemed to suggest this was surprising and unlikely to happen because I am “foreign” but then went on to suggest I may be to blame for wearing a low-cut top. I cannot believe either of these instances happened. I did not make that man grab my breast and my low-cut shirt more than covered my breasts. And I certainly expected a more sympathetic ear. But the fact that anyone anywhere thinks it’s okay to grope anyone else is absurd. (I wish I could also explain how demeaning the blatant staring, pointing and discussing of any waygukin woman in the area is.) This hypersexualization of Caucasian women allows an attitude which makes it easier to discriminate against Caucasian women and the people who are willing to help them, work with them, talk to them or have anything to do with them. Obviously the objectification of women everywhere has lead to and continues to allow for misogyny, albeit often in a more subtle form in the US.

It would be a lie to say I haven’t been groped or otherwise harassed in America, but again, it does not compare to South Korea. The behavior is more extreme, bizarre and accepted.  Quite frankly I do not even begin to understand how Korean women tolerate it and I believe it goes a long way towards explaining why it is so rare to find a Caucasian woman who has been in Korea for more than five years. It is something that gives me pause when considering whether or not Korea is a place worth living.

I hope that gives you some insight into how at least one Caucasian woman sees hypersexualization in Korea.

Not to downplay Krista’s experiences in any way, but I had no idea that things were so bad here that many foreign women were persuaded to leave. Do readers agree that it is a big problem here, or has Krista merely been extremely unlucky?

Update: Read about a slightly bizarre 2-hour long case of groping on a train here and here.

80 thoughts on “Groping in Korea: Just How Bad Is It?

  1. When I first came to Korea, I was living in the west end of Bucheon. I replaced a teacher who had done a midnight run because of an incident where a man groped her in the elevator of her apartment building, and then forced his way into her apartment, offering to pay her for sex. She told the hagwon director about it, who basically replied “What do you expect us to do about it?” and seemed totally mystified when the teacher left the day after she got her next paycheck.

    Another teacher at that hagwon claimed she’d been groped by a taxi driver and sexually assaulted by a masseur. She also left unannounced, but several months after those incidents and there were a ton of other issues at play there.


    1. Ha! I’m not surprised at all to hear such stories of Bucheon, which I hear from a friend of mine that lives there is full of people without the skills or qualifications to live and/or work in Seoul, and who rather resent those who do, let alone “rich” foreigners and so on. Not by coincidence, that’s where the famous harassment case between an Indian professor, his Korean female friend, and a drunk ajosshi happened last year for instance.

      Not that I want to make light of what happened to your coworkers of course. But I confess I am curious: what happened in the first case after she (presumably) refused his offer? I’m guessing he didn’t just quietly leave…?


      1. I only heard the story secondhand through another co-worker since the person who was assaulted had left Korea by the time I came, but from what I was told the guy kept groping her and offering to pay her and she continued to refuse, and after a while he realized that he would have to escalate things through force — I guess that was crossing a line for him, and he eventually left.

        The officetel where this happened (and where I later lived) was in a little bar/red light district — you usually couldn’t see the ground for all the flyers for 여대생 마사지 with pictures of naked Japanese girls on them (my building had a massage parlour and a church on the same floor for a while). I’m guessing that harassment and assault by strangers is more likely to happen in an area like that than in a purely residential apartment block. In any case it wasn’t a very nice place to live.


  2. I’ve been followed by ajosshi that tried to yell, cajole and pout (!) their way into my apartment building, but a friend of mine actually had her nipples pinched by an old man on the bus just a few days into her contract. She was pretty freaked out, but stuck out her contract anyway.

    On the strange flip side of things, my husband and I took the bus out to a rural area to visit a friend and were waiting by a bus stop when an older woman approached us. She grabbed my husband’s ass, kissed his cheek, grinned at me, gave us each a yogurt drink while we were standing there stunned, and wandered off. I have no idea what that was about.


    1. Forgive me if it sounds facetious, but do you think the woman was mentally-handicapped? Alas, I’ve never been groped before, but I have had similarly bizarre experiences at bus-stops and train-stations with mentally-handicapped people here.


      1. I’ve had a similar experience. I used to train Taekkyeon with a group of really elderly women. They would sometimes pat me on the bum like I’m a little child. They’d also give me food and even adjust my hanbok (basically dressing me properly). While awkward, I never got the indication that it was sexual in any way. It did feel a bit patronizing at times, but I also got a sense of acceptance — of being part of the group, which is quite opposite to how foreigners are often treated.


          1. I know this article was posted a whileago but i saw these comments about the ahjummas and i wanted to try and offer an explanation. Let me start by explaining that i am a quarter korean. My dad is half black and half korean and my mom is white. ( Forgive me if that doesnt add up to a quarter i’ve always been terrible at math^^). Many years ago when my korean grandmother and myself traveled to korea to visit my extended korean family i had similar things happen to me as well. Granted i was a kid of 8 years old then but they way i understand it with my limited understanding of korean culture is that it is a mothering type thing. It’s not meant to be sexual it is just a kind of role korean ahjummas play as seniors. I’m sure you know this living in asia but asians dont have the same sense of personal space as westerners do so to them to have a stranger touch you isnt necessarily a violation as it would be in america. Now ofcourse that goes without saying that there is still a clear line between sexual harrasment. It clearly depends on the context but i wager that they saw foreigners and wanted to make them feel welcome or were excited to meet them and that is there way of expressing that. A similar thing happend to a friend of mine who is from New York City who lived in korea for a year to teach english who had similar things happen to her with an Ahjumma. She was groped on the street by a woman who surprisingly was admiring her blackness in broken english. She was confused and taken aback at the time but the more she thought about it the more she found it funny. Now we have a good laugh anytime someone brings it up.


          2. btw i was just commenting on aprilantipodal’s comment about her husband being groped by an ahjumma and given a yogurt. I didnt anyone to think that i wasnt taking sexual assault against females seriously.


          3. Likewise thanks very much for the explanation, and I don’t think you need to worry about people misinterpreting your comment (although this being the internet, I guess the caveat was still necessary and all!).


  3. Your last statements on groping and it being worse in rural areas I think is a rather big assumption. Being male as well doesn’t make me a very good judge in this area but I will make a couple of comments anyway.

    I have lived in Korea since 1996 and in Chungju for 90% of it. It generally is a nice little town and most people really like it. I haven’t heard of another ‘groping’ incidence (again though I not female and may have missed complaints about it). I have heard of a few cases of woman being propositioned and of a few flashers. When I talk to friends from big cities though I have heard similar things and in similar amounts.

    I don’t think this is a ‘rural problem’. Your notes about the amount this happens at the World Cup show this. The World Cup is a very crowded event with lots of people and potentially lots of witnesses.


    1. Quite right about the assumption sorry: I didn’t think long enough about the last line before rushing off to work, and I’ve edited the post accordingly. And changed the slightly misleading title, and the typos, and so on (sigh). Will try and restrain myself from hitting “publish” next time!

      Will reply properly to the other comments later tonight once I’m on my own computer.


  4. Not much can really be done about it. People are crushed to tight together in this country that gropers can easily slip away without risk of their identity being known / reported. It sucks but the only real recourse if for females to utilize their one sure-defense to all unwanted male sexual contact. A swift kick in the gonads will ensure that groper doesn’t come near you again.


    1. Well, yes and no. Granted, I don’t commute in Seoul, but on the Busan subway at least it would be pretty difficult for someone accused of groping to avoid giving their identity away, even during rush hour. And hell, even in Seoul than a loud Ya! Seongchuhaeng hajima! (야! 성추행하지마!), or “Hey! Stop groping me!”, would at least have the effect of stopping it, if not necessarily helping reveal the identity of the groper.

      Sure it would take guts, and it’s not like not caring what others think of you, especially strangers, wouldn’t be a solution to many many other problems in Korea. Still, I definitely think it’s the most appropriate response, and that’s what that article above and Korean sexual violence organizations recommend too.

      Sorry if that’s overanalyzing your comment though!


      1. I agree. There can be something done about it. When gropers are at least shamed for their actions, there will be less of it. Not all groping happens in tight crowds where the groper can easily get away unnoticed. If women do say something that brings attention to what happened, and bystanders don’t act like nothing happened, I think there is a good chance that incidents of groping can go down.


      2. Nahh its ok. I was taking the more literal thought line that if you’ve already been groped then the best thing would to be ensure the groper doesn’t do it to someone else.


  5. Hi, I saw what you tweeted me and figured that I would apologize here as well. I didn’t mean that you were blaming the victim, I just made a comment on the common occurrence of men blaming women for wearing ‘inappropriate’ clothing that ‘entice’ them to commit such acts of sexual harassment. I personally found this article to be a very good read. I apologize for not making my meaning more clear.


  6. Then I must have been pretty fortunate that while staying almost 2 months in Seoul nothing actually happened. Well only one time when I was waiting for subway in Shinchon Station (line 2) at 11pm some ajeosshi sat next to me on the bench and the interrogation started. First question was about my Korean speaking ability. As he got to know that I actually speak a little, there was a question about where am I from and as I didn’t answer that, he guessed countries like Canada etc. to which I answered “no”. Then he asked me if I was a Yonsei student(which is believed to have a lot of foreigners), another answer “no”. Maybe he got an idea that I don’t really want to talk so next 2 minutes to train’s arrival he didn’t bother me. I know that my friends would comment it with “그 아저씨가 그냥 긍굼했어요”, but to me who has grown up in a society where there’s a big sign “do not talk to strangers” through your whole childhood it felt nothing but unpleasant.
    Still I think that Koreans acknowledge that there is such a problem with foreign woman being targeted cause I was told to inform my friends of any case if somebody was waylaying me.


    1. Hi,
      It has been a while since you wrote this, but I would like to mention that it is impolite to speak to people you don’t know in Korean culture too, especially in Seoul. Koreans speak to foreigners they don’t know because they think we come from a culture where speaking to strangers is okay. For example there are laces in the USA and Australia (Sydney?) like this. They do not understand that in every native English-speaking country there is a different culture, even within the same country each area will have its own subculture-despite the fact the same is true for Korea. Parents even encourage their children to shout ”hello” to foreigners they don’t know!

      There is only one way to put an end to this, and that is for every foreigner to realise that in Korean culture it is rude to speak to people you don’t know, and if and adult or a child over the age of 7 or so, randomly greets you or starts talking to you, (someone you don’t know, that is) then they should act coldly or ignore them, just as a Korean person would behave. Unfortunately, the majority of foreign teachers do not seem to understand that it is not appropriate to talk to people you don’t know here, so they greet or start a conversation with this person (or older child). Children also end up learning that is okay to be rude to a foreigner (because what they are doing is rude in Korean culture), and this spills over into other behaviors towards foreigners, even as students.

      Also, people from the ”older generation”/baby-boomers have the stereotype of being rude and doing whatever they want (according to my Korean friends and husband). This generation also seem to hold a stereotype of their own: that female foreign students are also prosititutes. Sometimes asking if you are student is a round-about way of asking if your services are available, if you get what I mean.

      Totally agree that the typical excuse would be ”그 아저씨가 그냥 긍굼했어요” if you were to complain about this behavior to some people, despite this being rude in their own culture!!!. Unfortunately, in my 7 years of being here (and most of it has been spent in Seongnam and Seoul), there are more people who make excuses or not even acknowledge these kinds of problems (ranging from looking up and down your body, asking for sex outside your own home or even groping) that foreign women face than those who do. My husband is one of those few, simply because he is an almost daily witness to it when we are out and about together. (Yes, that’s right, things happen even with him next to me!).


      1. Oh yes, me too. My husband (Korean) has gotten into arguments (and…sadly…a couple of fights) with strangers on the street over this stuff. Even when I send signals that I am not interested in being leered at, and move out of their line of sight, they’ll move to gawk some more. It makes my husband and I both worry about my safety when I’m alone. (We’re in Incheon, by the way.)

        It’s exhausting, because I can’t even just blame it on the creepsters. It’s about 80-90% of the people I pass around here. Ajumas and Ajjashis are by far the worst when it comes to creepy leering (including the up and down the body look and complete head swivel.) Some will even slow down on the sidewalk so they can follow me and gawk from behind. My husband has stopped a few of these to confront their behavior. Their answer was, “But she’s a foreigner. Why can’t I stare at her?” Am I an animal or something???

        My husband and I noticed that we are much more anonymous when we’re in Seoul than when we’re in Incheon, though. I’ve been living here for 5 years, and after anxiety and depression issues from everything (not just the staring and sexual harassment, but other foreigner/ woman issues), we’re hoping a move to Seoul will be better. If not, we may have to leave Korea :-/


  7. This was interesting to read. Especially in light of what us Tumblr-ers are debating at the minute.

    I’m pretty sure that most non-Korean women living here in Korea know of at least one other female expat who has been the victim of harassment and/or groping by a Korean male. I would argue, though, that most women in any country – whether they are a native there or not – could refer you to a female friend/relative/distant neighbor who has experienced the same.

    What makes it more commonplace in Korea, I would completely agree, is the hypersexualization of caucasian women here. In my experience, it is not uncommon for a Korean man to appear actually suprised when he finds I do not fit into this vulgarized and yet widely accepted stereotype. Take the 20-something male who approached me in a bar a while ago, for example, and was confused when my reaction to his opening line about his penis was not “OK big boy let’s head to the nearest love motel!” but more like “What the … ? F*** Off!!”. He immediately became embarrassed and began apologizing, saying he’d heard western women were ‘liberal’ and that, I assume by extension, it’s acceptable for him to walk up to them and start telling them about his private parts. I would have loved to see the reaction of the table of Korean woman nearby, had he approached them and done the same.

    What doesn’t help all this however is the fact that, although of course the vast majority of Koreans do not find it acceptable to literally molest or sexually harass a westerner, it IS apparently acceptable to stare at them in public, to the point of intimidation. Thus, by living in this country, expats already have to (whether we like it or not) adjust their notions about what is deemed ‘normal’ behaviour by a complete stranger. What would I do if a guy stood infront of me on the subway back in my home country and literally and obviously looked me up and down for a full minute? Probably something not too ladylike. What do I do when that happens here in Korea? I look down. I look away. I get out my phone and pretend to read a text message. Anything to avoid the kind of confrontation that I would have to deal with way too often, should I decide to start telling these people, in a language I can’t fluently speak, that it makes me uncomfortable.

    Yes, subsequently, the way I dress has changed during my time here. A hint of cleavage in the daytime is no longer an option. Shorts that show my butt cheeks though, should I choose to wear them, apparently are!


    1. So showing your butt cheeks is acceptable now?
      How wierd.

      We use out sexuality openly to attract male attention, then we complain when they lose control of themselves and touch us, or talk sexually to us?

      Then we say, “you can’t blame the victim for what these guys say and do to us”.

      What bullshit, even if you’re not one of the ones who walks around with her toys and ass hanging out, showing your abdomen and your pussy lipsthrough your skin tight spandex pants, you’re still winking at that behavior.

      And you will have to suffer male behavior you say you dont like as a result of other girls behavior.

      Take responsibility for yourself, dont complain and criminalize male behavior that is encouraged by the way women dress, or hide behind the victim defense snowjob.


      1. “We use our sexuality openly to attract male attention, then we complain when they lose control of themselves and touch us, or talk sexually to us?”

        So, men are so stupid, and such a slave to their instincts, that they just can’t help groping attractive women? And women that dress sexily are encouraging it?

        Banned for your reprehensible views, and/or for just trolling.


        1. Aw, I’m sad you banned “alice” for his reprehensible views. I was about to have a bit of fun ripping apart his stupidity. After all, it was clearly a man who wrote that comment. (Even Stockholm Syndrome has its limits.)


      2. Ooops, I thought this post had been deleted as well as banned. (Hence my comment at the end of the page.)

        I sincerely doubt Alice is a man. Women don’t usually make assertions like “We use out (sic) sexuality openly to attract male attention, then we complain when they lose control of themselves and touch us, or talk sexually to us?”

        … because not everything women do is centered on men’s reactions. Women don’t tend to go to the closet thinking, “What can I put on today that will make random men in whom I’m not interested lose control of themselves, touch me, or talk sexually to me?” They look in the closet, wonder what is flattering for them to wear, and put it on… just like that subset of men who pick clothes consciously. (As opposed to most of us men who are just covering their bodies for politeness’ sake.)

        (And I’ve never heard a woman hatefully refer to other women’s breasts as “toys” or complain about other women’s “pussy lips” being visible.)

        But the dead give-away is the one you started with, “Alice”: it is only men who tend to think women think constantly of how men will react to them… and, even more, they tend to believe this is how women *ought* to think, and project it onto women at every opportunity. Worse, implying that women secretly enjoy getting humiliated by being touched in unwanted sexual ways by strangers in public spaces — the only possible meaning of “male behavior you say you dont like” and then blaming women for the actions of men– “as a result of other girls behavior.” And calling women girls. And lumping all women who complain about groping together as secretly enjoying it.

        I would submit that the only people who think women think constantly of men in terms of their every action are men who neither understand nor care to understand women. Even Stockholm Syndrome has its limits: Alice is not a woman whose mind has been twisted by a life of living as a hostage among bigoted sexist apes… that is simply too far beyond believability. Alice is a man, doing the most shameful thing a man commenting on women’s issues can do: putting on a female identity, in order to put ridiculous words into women’s mouths.

        However, the ploy is both ancient and very transparent. Nobody is fooled by your idiotic comment, “Alice.”


      3. So if a woman were to ‘lose control’ and sexually assault or rape a man with a giant wooden strap-on (in some imaginary universe where she would be strong enough to) because he was wearing shorts that stopped above his knee, or he was walking topless along a beach in the summer, he had had tight jeans on, that would be acceptable? That would be the man’s fault? The woman’s behavior would be justified and even ‘natural’? Because that man, by showing skin, was ‘winking’ at that kind of behavior?

        What planet are you on?

        You are seriously saying that men are inherently rapists or sexual assaulters? That inside every man is some kind of beast that can’t help but be unleashed when he sees a bit of female flesh?

        No, no and no.

        Newsflash: I could walk out into the street absolutely butt naked with not an item of clothing on and a man’s behavior toward be would he HIS FAULT AND HIS FAULT ALONE. Men are NOT babies. They are NOT robots. It is not ‘my job’ to ‘control’ them. My body is MY business and no one on this planet has the right to assault me or hurt me because of a piece of clothing that I choose to wear.

        We live in a society that teaches us women’s bodies are there as something to be owned or objects to be acted upon. We live in a society that teaches men they have the right to do what they want to a woman if she looks a certain way. We live in a society that teaches women that it is their responsibility to control the actions of men towards her, or to ‘protect’ herself.

        Well guess what. Nuns still get raped. Women wearing burkas covering their entire bodies still get raped. Girls – babies – are still subject to the sexual advances of men, before they have any idea what ‘sexuality’ even is.

        You are completey and utterly wrong. A woman showing off her ‘ass’ or ‘abdomen’ or whatever else is not an open invitation to be assaulted or abused.

        Try doing some reading on ‘rape culture’ and cure yourself of your ignorance.


    2. When I get stared at, I take my phone out and start video-ing them, or pretend to. Yes, it is not a very nice thing for me to do. However, the middle finger and staring back doesn’t work. Telling them to stop staring both in Korean or in English doesn’t work. The videoing technique works a treat, though. When they hear that little ”ping” from my phone indicating that I could be videoing them, they panick and stop staring.


      1. That’s what I found, too: the ping usually reminded staring morons of their manners, or, assuming those are nonexistent to begin with, at least clued them in that their public image was now in danger.

        I have a whole bunch of photos and videos of rude assholes I’ve been meaning to compile at some point, though now that I no longer live in Korea (Aaaaah) I can’t seem to muster the bitter rage enough to bother.


  8. I guess Japan still beats Korea in this regard. I mean there are much more stories reported from Japan on the issue. I’m not sure, why that is? Maybe more foreigners in Japan, who blog and voice their experience or is it, because more groping happens in jam-packed subway trains in Tokyo? I don’t know, but that’s what I associate with groping usually.


  9. I agree with Krista, I feel like the harassment is a lot worse here than it is back home. Back home, I get more sleazy catcalls and verbal harassment, but never anything physical. In Korea, it’s almost all physical.

    Last year, I lived in Janghandong in Dongdaemun — so you can clearly see there are going to be problems if you know the area, haha. One day, on the 5-minute walk home from the bus, I decided to count all the obvious love motels/massage parlors/room salons on one side of the street. Fifteen. Last year, I was assaulted on the street twice.

    The first time was a block or so away from my school. I walked past an older man, probably in his 60s or 70s, and he wrapped an arm around me from behind and grabbed my ass with his other hand. I was screaming all the while and trying to pry him off of me, and he just laughed and laughed and laughed. I was so shaken that all I could think to yell was, “F–k you! Don’t f–king touch me!” And he just repeatedly yelled, “F–k you!” right back in my face, all the while laughing. That was the most upsetting by far.

    I also had a man come running up to me on my 8am walk to school, which was on a fairly busy street, and he was yelling at me and laughing, alternating between Korean and, “Hello!” I kept walking, and he, again, grabbed my arm and wouldn’t let go, no matter how hard I pulled. Since there were other people around, when I started yelling at him, it was at least embarrassing enough for him to let go of me, so nothing escalated too far.

    I’ve also had Korean men inappropriately grab me in nightclubs, like hands down my shirt despite my telling them no and slapping/hitting them, and let’s not even get into all the times I’ve been asked if I’m Russian.


    1. Ah, forgot about the time that another older man sat down next to me in a crowded park and told me he loved me. When my friend and I got up to leave, he, again, grabbed me to sit back down next to him, and when that didn’t work, he grabbed my ass. Again, I yelled, “F–k you!” (It’s an instinctual reaction that I can’t help because it’s so upsetting when it happens.), and this guy also laughed and yelled it back at me.

      Older men, 60s-70s, by far are the worst for me.


      1. Ugh, totally agree. People complain about adjummas, but their biggest crimes are looking funny and pushing for seats on the subway. Adjusshis are much more dangerous.


  10. I always wonder about differences in harrassment for blondes versus brunettes. It seems like I’ve heard a lot more stories from my blonde friends, and while I’ve had uncomfortable situations, nothing so blatant as these stories.


    1. Oh indeed there is! I started my time in Korea as a blonde. Now I am a brunette. The difference is truely night and day.

      Blonde may have more fun, but brunettes get harrassed less!


      1. As a brunette, I have only been physically harrassed twice, but I am verbally harrassed or stared at (up and down my completely clothed body) almost every day, even with my husband standing next to me. I have been in Korea for 7 years now, and most of the time I have been in Seoul or Seongnam.


  11. I don’t think that HYF’s experiences are uncommon. I’ve heard complaints from girls about similar situations before. It’s really shocking. Though I’ve never been openly harassed by older men I’ve gotten some questionable attention before.

    I get the “Are you Russian?” thing a lot too. I’ve had men put their hands on me, not in any extremely inappropriate away, but it was definitely unwanted contact. A few times I’ve had older men press up against me unnecessarily (there was plenty of room for them to stand back) on the Subway.

    As far as actually being assaulted, it was very surprisingly by a younger guy. A high schooler (16 years old!). He harassed me in my apartment building elevator in the middle of the day with cameras around. The same guy assaulted 2 other women in my area. The woman who was attacked before me (in her building elevator as well) was advised by the Korean building manager to not contact the police at all. He basically told her it wasn’t a big deal.

    After that incident I’m finding out about more and more females who have experienced some really uncomfortable and inappropriate situations, and not just in-the-club or out-on-the-streets at night. One of the biggest things, I think, is that a lot of women assume that Korea is a super safe country and that it isn’t necessary to worry about being harassed. They really let their guard down. That was certainly me before.


      1. I was the first to go to the police. The girl who was attacked a week later also went and filed a report. The police were very helpful and worked really hard. So, he was caught. Less than a week after his last attack the police found him loitering around. I ran into them by accident and was able to ID the kid on the spot, the other girls did the same later at the police station.

        The police all seemed really shocked by the situation, and my guess is that they’re not used to handling cases like that.

        As for the medication part, they said that he was actually already on medication. When his mom came in the first thing she did was exclaim “This is why you stay at home”. It seemed like he hadn’t really gotten much professional help for whatever thing he is dealing with outside of being put on medicine. But, that’s just my assumption.

        Not sure what happened to him. Reports were filed and he was held at the station, but I was told that there wasn’t really much they could do unless I and the other girls sued him. Is that strange? I’m not sure what the laws are regarding crimes committed by juveniles in Korea.


  12. I think one of the key things here is that groping is thought of as a serious and traumatic experience back home, and on the rare occassions where thhings have happened to my friends or myself, we could count on a decent level of personal support from friends and families, and institutional support from the police, our campus, etc. Groping is considered almost universally unacceptable. This isn’t to say that some people don’t ask what you were wearing, if you were in the wrong part of town, etc. . . .but by and large, I and my friends have recieved a lot of support and help after incidents occur.
    Here, any woman who finds herself targeted for groping is going to have less support, probably on a personal level from friends and family, and almost certainly on an institutional level. The idea that it’s no big deal, or the guy was just having a bit of fun seem pretty well ingrained.


  13. Like Krista, I used to wonder why I never met any long-term female expats. In addition to non-Korean women being perceived as overly sexual, Korean men seem to know that we probably live alone if we’re not married. I’ve shared my most traumatic story here in the past but I have also been followed home by men demanding my number, experience weekly propositions (when not in a social setting), and what I guess are the normal(?) lewd stares, etc. These also happen to most women I talk to, as well as much creepier things, like being stalked by complete strangers who try to get you to leave your apartment in the middle of the night. When I share these experiences with Koreans (women or men) they seem to think that I should take them as compliments. It’s as if in the West, I am human but in Asia I am only a FEMALE human. It’s eye-opening and demoralizing.


  14. this whole comment thread is bumming me out. i have lived here (Seoul) for 5 years and neither myself nor any of my other friends have any had any experiences of the sort, nor have we heard from anyone about such things.

    i shutter to think what people will assume about South Korea, a place I really love, after reading all these comments. Half of them sound factitious anyways.

    furthermore i fell MUCH safer here than at home. I am American so i can only speak for United States, but it seems the first thing many foreigners do when they get here is forget the plank in their eye and only notice the sawdust here in SK.

    The US has RAMPANT sexual crime, date rape, sexual harassment and sexual intimidation. the fucked up thing is that many American (girls especially) i meet forget this. as a female i feel my safety is MY better here in seoul than back in the states


    1. Well, this entire comment thread is focused on groping and sexual assault. So of course the majority of the people commenting are going to be the ones who have seen/experienced it.

      Anyway, just because Korea has a lower crime % rate than back in the states doesn’t mean that crime doesn’t happen here. Also, the majority of sex related crimes aren’t reported to the police, so there wouldn’t be any way to accurately measure a statistic.

      Sure, in Korea I feel like there’s a much lower percentage of me being mugged, or what not. But after what I experienced, and what I’ve heard from numerous other females, I can’t say that I believe that sexual assault is a ‘fluke’ occurrence.

      The sex crimes in the US can get really ugly. However, whether is groping or rape it’s ASSAULT. So, a man touching a woman in any inappropriate way or making her feel uncomfortable by saying something lewd, while not as severe as rape, is just as wrong and demoralizing. And just because there’s WORSE sex crime in one place doesn’t mean that the sexual violation happening elsewhere isn’t bad.

      I don’t believe that Korea is an unsafe country for women. I don’t, or I wouldn’t be coming back to teach again. However, I believe it’s totally wrong to say that Korea is completely safe and women shouldn’t worry at all. Also, foreign women need to know that there’s a possibility that they might face something uncomfortable, and should be on their guard. AND that if something DOES happen they can do something about it, and they have a support base.

      Just to say though, I think that by using the word “factitious” in your comment you’ve pretty much told everyone here who has experienced something frightening and uncomfortable that we’re full of it or that we ‘did it to ourselves’. It’s attitudes like that that keep women from reporting assault. You have no idea what has happened to any of us. You’re lucky enough to not know what it’s like. So I suggest you practice a bit of empathy and think before you make comments like that.

      I’m really glad that you’ve never experienced anything that we’re talking about. Hope you never do.


    2. I completely agree with Auggie’s reply, especially her comment about your use of the word “factitious.” By calling those of us who’ve experienced this liars, you’re enabling things like this to keep on happening. While my own experiences in this regard in Korea have been upsetting to me, I know that I’m lucky. Within my inner and outer circles of friends, I’ve heard of two who’ve been attacked or raped by taxi cab drivers. The fact is that this happens in Korea, and it’s not uncommon. Will it happen to everyone? No. But just because you and your friends have been lucky enough to have avoided this doesn’t mean that we ALL have, regardless of whether or not you want to believe it.

      I like Korea. In general, I feel much safer here than I do at home. However, this is the one area in which I personally do not. Do I live in fear of this? No. Is Korea unsafe for women? No. But I think that women need to be aware of this issue. None of us are saying that just by being a woman in Korea, you WILL get assaulted or raped, and none of us are saying that these things DON’T happen in the US or other countries. But. I think that they happen differently from back home (i.e. in the US, the vast majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by non-strangers [] whereas I think foreign women here are more likely to be assaulted on the street or in clubs or cabs by strangers), and I think women who come to Korea need to be aware of the possibilities.

      Bad things happen everywhere, I don’t think anyone is denying that. But a lot of us harp on about how safe Korea is — and again, it is in so very many ways — and I think that keeps a lot of people from seeing some of the bad things that can and do happen here.


    3. Nobody is saying that sexual crimes don’t happen in the US; the statistics there are sobering (1/4 women will experience it in their lifetimes, etc.) but there is a different attitude toward women here and especially non-Korean women. Before I lived here, I lived in the largest American city, and aside from 1 or 2 creepy experiences, felt really safe, as I generally feel safe in Korea. But it is doing everybody a disservice to claim that Korea is 100% safe and non-sketchy just because you have never had a bad experience. While being a foreigner in Seoul is probably not a big deal, being a foreign woman elsewhere in the country can make you a *very* visible minority, and this can be frightening. Also, my stories aren’t made up, dude. And I have more from others I know, so don’t assume. :-P


    4. I cannot speak for the USA, but I am from the UK, and although I have had interest from men in bars, nightclubs etc at home….I have NEVER been gropped, asked if I am a prosititute, asked for sex, and been lewdly stared at in broad daylight when I am simply going about my daily business (going to work, going to the bank, shopping at the supermarket etc) in my own country. However, all of these things happen here, almost daily, even with my husband next to me. That doesn’t mean that these things don’t happen in the UK-of course they do-but it is far worse here.
      I am only here because my husband is Korean, and our attempt to move to the UK happened just as the recession hit, so we had to move back here. I wish we could move back to the UK…..


  15. Funny I found this, on Oct 1st I was with my girlfriend (she is Korean) she told me the two guys sitting down were drunk. I didn’t pay attention to them, I don’t know too much of the language. They were all laughin and talking, they were definately drunk. A few stops after my girlfriend left he comes up to me and starts talking to me. I just nodded laughed tried to keep it simple… he kept saying the other guy was his brother. I guess that was the extent of his English. The other guy would say, “no, no, no”. He asks if I am Army, I say no. Usually, I say I am from a random country like Zimbabwe.

    Well, he asks me for my phone number. I tell him no, he does not need it. He gets really offended by this. “give me, give me phone number!” Again, I just tell him no, that is okay, no number. I’m staying cool, his friend gets up and starts tugging his arm, to go back sit down, but he refuses. Like he will not leave until he gets my number. Sorry, not going to happen.

    His stop finally comes up and they get ready to leave, he proceeds to grab my butt(standing from in front of me). I am just like, okay, bye… wtf. I know Koreans stand close and are feely and huggy with their friends. They were this way when I was in Kuwait where I grew to like Koreans and actually decided to come here (took a language class in Kuwait also). People that stand close to me are a threat, they are either there to rob or stab me… not comfortable. It was no problem until he grabbed my butt. I kept my cool, thinking not to make a scene, I’m a foreigner and don’t want to make us look bad. He was sooo close to making me snap though, can’t really blame him for wanting to grab this sweet buns though. =D

    I told my girlfriend and she sent me a word to yell at him. Too late though… I wonder how much trouble I would get into if I just beat the crap out of someone that groped me.


    1. Almost forgot… a lot of guys have been groped by older females here around base. I have heard numerous accounts of groin grabbing going on.


      1. Or by older men (presumably long-closeted gays). I can say so, I’ve experienced it. (So has at least one of my friends.)

        It’s tangential to the discussion of safety for women and girls here, I’d argue. I’ll just add the majority of the stories I hear about groping from Korean women involve them having a bad experience with a middle-aged man when they themselves were underage. (Not all: one woman I know was groped on the subway escalators the day she told me the story. But I have heard plenty of stories that started with, “When I was [four-, fif-, six-]-teen…” And you can be sure the overwhelming majority of those cases never get reported.)

        I’ll say it again: I don’t get why more people don’t carry pepperspray around. It is available on Gmarket, and I doubt any perp who sexually assaults someone is going to go to the cops saying, “I just stuck my hand in her crotch, and what did she do? She peppersprayed me!” (Though, Korea being Korea, I wouldn’t be completely surprised if pepperspraying a would-be rapist in self-defense carried a heavier legal penalty than the sexual assault itself.)


          1. With the caveat that when I hear Koreans talk about those kinds of experiences, nobody seems shocked. The middle/high school flashers/wankers? Common enough that plenty of women I know have a story, and nothing’s done about it… because, you know, let’s pretend this kind of behaviour never escalates.


  16. well, my friend’s MOM got palmed by some ajusshi who wanted to see what a D-cup felt like during her 1-week visit in seoul so i don’t think it’s an infrequent occurrence for foreign women. my other large-chested friends have had comments and stares directed at them repeatedly.

    it’s absolutely pitiful.

    one day i was at balsan station. it was empty except for me and a drunk ajusshi who tried to pull me onto a train when it came. he got two swift kicks to the kneecap. i am 130-lbs and i am sure as hell not gonna let some guy drag me anywhere if i can help it.

    last week, an ajusshi gave me a pretty solid thud on my arm because he felt my friend and i were talking too loud. if he had touched me one more time, we were gonna have it out. i don’t like to feel threatened. And in a public place, i feel like i can hold my own.

    last year, on the grounds of the girls’ high school where i teach, i was flashed by a young guy. after a moment’s shock, i chased after him to whoop his ass but wasn’t able to catch him. i saw him on campus one more time after that but when he realized i saw him, he ran off. (hell yeah!)

    whenever i’m with my blond friend (i’m black) we are constantly leered at. we’ve been photographed against our will on two occasions (that we’re aware of). when she is by herself, besides leering, she’s had old men try to get her into their car!

    i look at it this way, seoul is one of the biggest metros in the world. a woman has to remember that and be on guard. (just because we’re women and unfortunately, that’s how it is.) for me, the difference between here and home is what somebody pointed out, there’s no support system and no sense of these actions being seen as serious violations against the victim.

    when i told my coworker about the flasher, she was like, “really? i guess i’ll tell the head teacher.” (you GUESS?! uh, shouldn’t we warn the students and parents?!) the same boy was seen a week or so later outside of my sister school (a few yards away) jacking off… *sigh*


  17. I was grabbed from behind in my neighbourhood (of a major city) while leaving my apartment to buy milk during the night. The guy inappropriately touched me. I lift weights and cycle constantly and it’s obvious that I could hurt a man who made his presence known in any way, so the molestor took me off guard (a fortnight later my Filipina friend, who is slight, was assaulted by a man who just walked up from in front). There had been a rape of a foreign woman in my city that weekend and I had to assume that the man, whom I swore at in Korean and struggled against, could be the perp. He cycled off when I made a noise, but I went home and went to sleep… with a box of books against my door.

    The next day at school I was in a downbeat mood. A teacher my own age said “yes, we call people like that byeontaes, I guess it never happened to you before. You’d better forget about it.” To her, being seized and groped was just a part of everyday life as a woman (I got the same attitude from some older women, too). When my then boyfriend, a Korean man, heard about the situation, he said “you’d better not go out at night.” I angrily replied that this was blaming me for the behaviour of a pervert and would mean that the perv had won. He said “I guess you’re right. I never thought of it that way.” At the time of the assault I was wearing loose jeans and a hoodie. This came as a timely reminder that the cause of sexual assault is not women’s attire but the behaviour of the assailant. I now wear what the hell I please, with whatever neckline or skirt length I want. Pretty and attractive clothing makes me feel good and enables me to express my self-esteem, and not wearing it isn’t going to discourage creepers.

    I do feel that in some ways there is an attitude that non-Korean women aren’t fully human and that it’s ok to do ‘stuff’ to us because we’re not deserving of respect – for much the same reason that a teenage girl working in a local 7-11 keeps addressing me in super-informal banmal despite me having asked her twice not to do that (if I obey social structures like the honourific system, there is no legitimate reason why it should not be applied to me). However, aside from the foreigner issue, I do know of groping behaviours against Koreans. Those behaviours are carried out as much by the young as by the old, though unfortunately I can’t give details of what I know there. Someone earlier on was trying to claim moral relativism between Korea and America. I’m not American, like a large number of the teachers here, so that’s not very relevant to me. However, I can say that in my homeland, I was never sexually assaulted while buying anything late at night, and that I walked unscathed on more than one occasion across a city infamous for gang violence and gun crime at night. Dangerous, but not like living in a war zone by any means. Also, if I had been sexually assaulted, I could safely rely on people around me seeing that as a bad thing and not somehow my fault. Not so here. Is South Korea more dangerous than the USA or other western countries? I doubt it. Is there more of a flippant attitude towards a woman’s right over her own body? It certainly seems like it.

    R.e. hair colour and sexual harrassment. I have a number of blonde friends and have to say that as a very dark brunette (similar colour to soy sauce) I don’t see myself as being harrassed less than them. Older Koreans usually seem to take no notice of the colour of white women’s hair and actually assume that we are ALL blonde, irrespective of the reality. I had the same comment from a Japanese-Korean friend (anyway your hair is blonde were his exact words), and five of my students declared a picture of the singer Simone Simons from metal band Epica to be ‘blonde hair woman’ although her hair is naturally bright red. The idea that East Asians have some fetish craving for women with yellow hair is a stereotype and a bit of a ridiculous one. I do get a lot of strange behaviour from people based on the appearance of my body, which has an hourglass figure and long legs, but that’s usually from women being weird who think I can’t understand them discussing the size of my breasts. Sexual harrassment and assault are only to the vaguest extent based on attractiveness, as I would have hoped everyone had realised by now. They’re really about power.


  18. i’m a foreign girl and the worst thing that happened to me was adjusshi’s always tried talking to me while i was in korea. sometimes it was ok because they were just saying i was pretty or asking me where i was from, other times it was creepy like the time a drunk guy followed me through a museum and kept trying to talk to me even though i don’t speak korean

    there was a really rude drunk guy who shouted “you are whore” at me at a metro station.

    but as for being physical, one guy i was dancing with tried to feel me up at the club. but it was at the club and we were already dancing together so i assume guys will act like that anywhere and not just korea


  19. That girl talking about short skirts and blah blah, great, it makes you feel good. It makes the guys want more. Not a smart choice.
    I guess about the grope incidents in the streets or something, the same goes for basically every populated parts of the world. Be on guard. I live around Atlanta, GA, and things can get pretty shady down there. Guess what? You don’t see girls all alone and vulnerable. I mean I understand that you shouldn’t have to get a gang of friend together just to go out and buy a milk, but common sense can help a lot.


    1. “That girl talking about short skirts, it makes the guys want more. But deciding that a girl in short skirts entitles you to more–not a smart choice. I guess about the grope incidents in the streets or something, the same goes for basically every populated parts of the world. Wherever you are, guys, don’t grope women. I live around Atlanta, GA, and things can get pretty shady down there. Guess what? Us guys shouldn’t hunt down and abuse women who are alone and vulnerable. A woman shouldn’t have to get a gang of friend together just to go out and buy a milk. If you aren’t sure whether a woman wants to be groped by you, common sense can help a lot.”

      Fixed it for you.


      1. I like the fix too: Some Korean-American guy is obviously wrong-headed about it, in the standard, are-you-really-trotting-out-that-dead-old-argument way.

        But I humbly submit that education won’t 100% fix the problem either, Jen, and the vigilance he talks about, while it’s unfortunate, will probably remain necessary no matter how successful any education program on sexual consent, or empathy training, or teaching of respect for women, ever becomes.

        Teaching guys that they shouldn’t hunt down and abuse women who are alone and vulnerable won’t always work because not all guys are going to actually learn that lesson: some men — and not just sociopaths — are going to learn other lessons fro the teaching: how to evade detection, how to manipulate their victims psychologically, and so on. There are a lot of people like that out there — possibly as many as one in a hundred, definitely one (or more) in 150 people.

        Since consciousness raising will never work on people like that — as well as those who are not interested in having their consciousness raised, other measures are necessary. A more proactive response from the justice system, and from people themselves in teaching their kids how to navigate the world, is a good idea. And frankly, bystanders need to be able to enforce community standards… most women and even most men I know in Korea think this groping stuff is unacceptable, but I doubt many would actually involve themselves if they saw it happening on the subway.

        But even after all of that is fixed, women will probably always face the question of whether going somewhere alone is safe, whether dressing a certain way might attract unwanted attention from a certain, tiny segment of the population who, no matter how hard you try, you cannot reform.

        In a sense, it’s like the Buddhist “Parable of the Arrow”: If you get a poisoned arrow in the chest, you can’t sit and think about the ethical or mechanical speculations of how it got there–you have an arrow in your chest to deal with. That is, the metaphysical considerations are important, but they are not the (unfortunate) immediate concern. This is not to defend the archer who attacked, but… thinking about who it might have been won’t help get the arrow out of your chest, right? Being groped isn’t the same as being shot by an arrow, but there is the question of practicalities versus ideal ethics. I agree with you on the ideal ethics, to whatever degree we can expect them to actually become part of the social contract. But I suspect that there are limits to that, just like to every other behavioural norm in the social contract.

        (Shopkeepers ought not to have to worry about having their shops broken into, but that doesn’t stop them adopting practical strategies to minmize the probability.)

        I’m not trying to lecture you on this, Jen — I’m a man and it would be ridiculous for me to do so, since I’ve only rarely experienced anything remotely like this, and never from a woman’s perspective. But I’m saying it here, publicly, because I think this is what men need to hear when they trot the “well, if you’d dress more conservatively, it wouldn’t happen,” and then hear women say, “But I shouldn’t have to.” Men sometimes take this to mean that women only focus on the ideals and don’t think about the practicalities, which isn’t true (the women I know consider them carefully). And women sometimes take this to mean men don’t consider the ethics, which, well, at least some of us do — some of us care very much about those ideals, and want them popularized, like, yesterday. It’s just… frankly, we’re balanced somewhere between the two, unfortunately often.

        I’d suggest this is also something most women know and practice. My own partner, a Korean here in Korea, dresses in a less-revealing way when she is taking the subway anywhere — with or without me — because she knows that if her legs are covered, or if she dresses in a way that looks “Korean” (ie. conventional) she will get a smaller degree of hateful stares or comments from men. She’s told me that she experiences less aggressive staring and fewer unexpected, offensive interactions. (As far as I know, she’s never been groped, perhaps in part because she is so careful and so often on her guard when in public here… in a certain sense, Korea is a foreign country to her too, and one that is more hostile to women than the other places she’s lived.) It’s sad to both of us that she would have to adopt such a strategy, but the alternative is constant harassment and occasionally the threat of a violent altercation… so while she shouldn’t have to (because men should behave in a civilized way) she opts for avoiding all that by dressing in a way that deflects attention (because plenty of them don’t). Whether clothing affects the rate of groping, I can’t say, but it is effective in avoiding negative attention.

        I’m not saying that all the groper ajeoshis in Korea are psychopaths, by the way. I think some certainly are, and some are just deeply sexist pricks. But in a practical sense, I sincerely doubt they are reformable, so in the current situation, one might as well think of them that way, and adopt strategies that minimize their ability to do harm. With education in terms of respect for women, sex education, consent, and so on, it makes sense to focus on kids, because they’re the ones most likely to be affected positively by such education.


  20. As a self-defence instructor I have to agree with *gordsellar.* Yes, we all should have the right to dress the way we want or the right to walk down a dark alley in the middle of the night if we wanted to. Such rights do not diminish the dangers that go with them.

    If you want to be safe, then you have to factor into the equation that there are some morally sick people in this world, and it is better to dress a little more modest and stay away from dark alleys, or whatever else are potentially dangerous (read any proper self-defence book for a list) — regardless of the inconveniences caused. Or take your chances. Yes, it is unfair, retarded, whatever — but such is life; even Korea with its relatively low incidents of violent crimes, compared to South Africa where I am from, is not paradise.


    1. Though, of course, dressing modestly isn’t necessarily going to deter the sickos. My partner gets *less* negative attention by doing so, not none. One of the implications of “some people are going to try it anyway” is that such people are also likely motivated not just by sexual attraction and stupidity, but also by a need to exert power over those less powerful, smaller, or less vulnerable than themselves. When a certain kind of dress might attract them is debatable, likely varies from case to case, and depends on a few assumptions. (I can imagine some of these guys being especially interested in women dressed in formal business clothing, or women wearing more modest clothing; it all depends on what meaning those kinds of clothing take on in crazy people’s heads.)

      There’s an unfair component to all this that we can address, and one we cannot. We can’t do much about the existence of sociopaths, at least for now.

      But we can make neighborhoods more safe. I’ve never seen Korean police out walking the beat except in very rich neighborhoods like Gangnam, where I suspect they’re much less direly needed than in most other places. In poorer neighborhoods, they seem never, ever to be around. And that’s a hint at the truly unfair part that we could address: while I don’t know anyone who lives at the end of a long, dark, alley, the part of Bucheon I live in is pretty horrible for women even out on the main streets, after a certain time of night. Which means women end up having to fear for their safety, schedule their lives around violent/drunken assholes, and so on… And economics doesn’t just force women who’d rather not to live in such an area, it also sometimes necessitates them coming home late from work (because they need the money, they take jobs that keep them late even though it puts them at risk), etc. But even so, having cops walking a beat would be a start. Having cops in subway stations would be a start.

      And making footage from CCTVs available in the case of a complaint–not subject to whether some random anonymous fucker at the bus station or working for the subway system feels the complaint is worthwhile–would be a start. (As someone who’s tried to get footage of a man who rode a bus, at the same time as his partner, and then threatened her after they both disembarked at the station, I can tell you it’s hard to get the footage, hard to get them to understand that a man threatening violence to a woman in public is not something that should be dismissed as no big deal. I was trying to get footage because the man is a student where I work, but they refused to issue it to us as “nothing happened on the bus.” Which tells you just how useful those CCTVs all over the place really are.)


  21. Yes, of course, one’s choice in attire would be just one of a whole arsenal of “safety choices” one would prescribe in self-preservation (self-defence) seminars and training. Such advice would include trying not to be out late at night. Again, yes it is unfair — why should women have to schedule their lives around drunk sickos? — but that’s the point, isn’t it? Criminals act in ways that are unfair, uncivil.


    1. Sure. Though I realize a problem in my own reasoning: I argue that there are things we can do something about, versus things we cannot.

      This is actually a category error: there are things individual people can do about it, things we would only ghet done if we acted collectively (ie. institutionally), and things we cannot do anything about.

      The stuff we cannot do anything about, well, we can’t do anything about. (Even if we could find out who is likely to become or continue being a sexual predator, what would we do then? Kill them? Jail them? Our current justice system, so-called, presumes a lot of things about agency and ignores a lot of what we know about innate nature, so it isn’t designed to deal with such conundra very well… though that will have to change sooner or later, and questions like, “Is it acceptable to use gene therapy or brain rewiring on the unwilling in order to curb their sexually predator tendencies?” will be up for debate.)

      But among the thing things we can do something about, what’s telling is that discussions almost always turn to what individuals–specifically women–can do. Sometimes it reinforces the myth that women usually get raped because of what they’re wearing, and that’s bad enough. But worse, it diverts attention from what we, collectively and institutionally, could and should be doing to deal with this.

      The fact that sex crimes are treated so laxly in Korea is an institutional problem. The fact that Korea (or at least Seoul) has no beat cops in most of its neighborhoods is an institutional problem, because a low police presence suggests an atmosphere of greater safety in which to assault or harass people (including women). The fact that subway security is so hands-off that you actually have to get off a train, run up the stairs, and ask someone to come — and then it takes longer for the person to arrive than it does for the train to move on — is a problem. (One could risk using a security button on a subway platform, I suppose. The one time I saw someone push it, nothing happened. At all. You take your life in your hands when you trust an anonymous, automated system in Korea to connect to a competent human being who is doing his job on the other end.) The fact that one never, EVER sees subway security officers on subway cars–at least, *I* haven’t, in almost six years of regularly using the Seoul subway system and its extended commuter-train network–is a problem. The fact that groping and sexual harassment are not taken seriously by too many people (ie. the lack of awareness) is a problem. All of these things are problems that something COULD be done about, but I don’t see anything being done. And the reason? Is there a better explanation than that decision makers don’t give a shit? I can’t think of one.

      And when we focus on the individual choices women can make, we do two things:

      1. We insult women: after all, do you really think women don’t already realize a lot of those precautions? Most women I know, even relatively unintelligent ones, have some idea about these things. We’re not performing a great revelation by pointing them out.

      2. We distract from the discussion of the bigger institutional things we could be doing. And these things could be done: all the examples of things I noted above as lacking in Korea are things that are a fact of life in the Canadian cities I lived in: beat cops, subway security (for those places with subways), harsher punishments for sex crimes, and more highly responsive security infrastructure… and, at least compared with Korea, better awareness about this stuff. It’s not asking much, even just to come up to that level. When we get there, we can talk about how to improve further, but all this stuff is practicable in Korea right now. The reason it doesn’t happen is… decision makers don’t give a shit, and women (unless they’re rich) are simply second-class citizens here.


  22. I know this post is a few years old but I have to say, I am indeed a Caucasian woman from the US and I have lived here almost 6 years now. I am rather curvy and never really had a problem being groped in America. Was I sexualized? Of course. However I was never touched in a manner I found offensive. Perhaps this is because I was the typical book worm and stayed away from the parties in college. I’m sure if I had gone to college parties, I would have been groped.

    Living in Korea I can say men have acted inappropriate towards me. My first year here, I was attending Yonsei. One day on the crowded subway, a man attempted to shove his hand in my crotch. Since it was so crowded, and I didn’t notice what he was doing, I dropped my bag lower to bring my elbows in. Once I saw what the man in front of my was attempting, I leaned back to not give him the satisfaction. When I told my Korean husband of this, he just told me to make sure I keep my bag in front of me next time. I didn’t think much of it since it was the first time.

    A few years later, I was living in Yeoksam-Dong, Kangnam-Gu. Something must have been in the soju because within the same month I saw two men masturbating in public. After an argument with my husband, I stormed out to get some fresh air at about 6am. It was already light out but I was sitting on a bench in darkness. A man came close to pee behind a car. I didn’t think anything of it, just another ajossi being gross. Then he came closer to me, stroking himself. I hurriedly ran into my apartment, shaking. My husband told me he probably thought I was a prostitute. Regardless, my permission is required before you show me your penis!

    The second happened on the main strip of Kangnamdaero, a young man, 20s, was masturbating while walking down the street. I thought I had imagined it until two girls started speaking about it in Korean. Again I was shocked but found that humorous since it wasn’t targeted to me directly.

    I have seen numerous men urinating outside, often in groups, when there is a public restroom nearby. I have never failed to find a bathroom when I needed one. I assume Korean men find some enjoyment in exposing themselves and if there is a public indecency law, it is not enforced and no one bothers to say something to him. One man was literally urinating on a busy street at 8pm, 4 meters from a building. He wasn’t drunk, he was very surefooted.

    This type of behavior seems to be simply accepted and expected by men. However, if women did any of these things, she would be labeled a slut.

    Oddly enough, I have been groped once in my life. Yes, it was in Korea but it wasn’t by a man. It was by an elderly WOMAN. On my way to Yonsei, I was on the bus. My stop was just 5 minutes away when a woman shoved her friend past me. The second woman almost fell down! The woman then stood extremely close to me, nothing I found too odd since I was standing opposite of the side door. She then decided to REST her hand on my butt. She did not brush it by accident, she literally placed her hand on me and held it there as if it was her hand rest! I had no idea what to do. I can’t yell at an old lady, someone would take a video and I would be another evil foreigner. Then she turned around, leaned against me, and rested her head on my shoulder. This was just as awkward as the groping. I was this woman’s personal resting spot! Luckily my stop was just one away, I pushed the button and got off. As I was leaving I heard her say “무서워~~” while laughing. I don’t know if she thought she scared me or if she was scared while groping me. Either way I was highly offended. When I relay this event to others, I usually get amusement. They cannot believe some old lady would grope me and I must be mistaken. It is hard to mistake that since it wasn’t even a crowded bus.

    I wish more woman, regardless of nationality, would stand up against the sexism that I definitely see here in Korea. Some things that definitely need to be checked in this country are the attitudes towards women, the huge double standard, and the belief that age wins every argument. I personally hate the fact that I feel like I cannot call the police or even try to get any justice if I am wronged or cheated in this country since they will always view me at fault regardless of the truth. My husband even tends to blame misunderstandings on my “poor” Korean skill even though I managed to get into the intermediate level at Yonsei. I am forever the victim here without any justice.

    You may wonder why I still live in this country if it bothers me so. I actually love Korea and try not to let a few isolated incidents ruin this country for me. True, I couldn’t wait to move out of Yeoksam-dong since it wasn’t my choice to live there in the first place. The way I look at it there are perverts and jerks everywhere. I would love to go back to America so I can at least yell at them confidently, where people don’t start at me in befuddlement if my grammar is slightly incorrect. I would love not to be stared at constantly and taken advantage of. However, my husband does his best to help me, especially these days when he has become a little more sympathetic after witnessing a few unfortunate events. Once I have kids and they are old enough to go to American kindergarten, we will move to the states since I cannot imagine raising a kid here and I would hate to subject my child to the ridiculous education system I have seen from several angles.


    1. Sorry for the belated response, and I wish — but can’t! — think of something equally long in reply to show my appreciation of it. But still, thanks very much for taking the time to write that!


    2. I hear you. From another caucasian woman married to Korean man. However, I don’t think moving back to the UK is an option for us *sigh*.


      1. While the UK might not be an option, don’t overlook other possibilities. There are loads of places where people are way less judgmental, confrontational, and plain unpleasant to deal with. My wife (a Korean) and I have just moved temporarily to Saigon (technically Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam), and it’s funny–we’re kind of shellshocked by the niceness of people here, the lack of weird confrontations, the freedom people feel in terms of their spare time. (People actually take dancing lessons in the park during the evening. Kids play in the park, instead of being trapped in hakwons.) It’s not a problem-free paradise–it’s still on planet Earth, after all–but there’s a reason a lot of Koreans in places like we are have no desire to return to Korea. (Hell, even with its problems, very few of the Koreans I met in Jakarta seemed to want to return to Korea.)


  23. What about being inappropriately hassled by a socalled woman at a mall because I said her cleavage was good as someone else’s. How does jailing some man for grabbing and feeling your bosom and nipples really do anything to resolve a situation like this? A pity what happened to Don Vito, Bam Margaras blood relative, she should have excused his unusual behaviour, instead of what too many multitudes of satan loving folks seem to enjoy doing, tattling to the police and making it a illegal crime.


  24. Forgivenesss instead of police would have been a better idea, a much better idea than revenge. Laws dont teach people forgiveness.


  25. My name is Kristopher:
    I taught English in a small elementary school in Korea from June 2009 to June 2011 and I have never heard from the other teachers if they have been abused by anyone wanting to feel them in an inappropriate way. Although, I understood that Korea is a highly sexed society.


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