Countering Sexual Violence in Korea (Updated)

Once again, Korea has gotten the lowest score of all high-income countries in a recent survey of gender-equality worldwide. And, at 104th out of 131 countries surveyed, it was bested by numerous much poorer countries at that.

Given that record, then it’s very easy to focus on Korea’s shortcomings when talking about gender issues. But that can mean that we can easily miss the positive developments that are occurring though, and sometimes right in front of our very noses.

Take what this humble-looking subway ad for instance, and what it ultimately represents. First, a translation:

부산 해바라기 여성 • 아동센터

Busan Sunflower Women & Children’s Center

여성 성폭력 피해자와 가정폭력 피해자, 학교폭력 피해자들을 돕고 있는 부산 원스톱 지원센터와 아동과 지적장애인 성폭력 피해자 전담센터인 부산 해바라기 아동센터가 2010년 1월 1일부터 부산 해바라기 여성 • 아동센터로 통합되었습니다.

From January 1, the Busan One-Stop Support Center, which helps female victims of sexual abuse, victims of family abuse, and victims of physical abuse at schools, and the Busan Sunflower Children’s Center, which helps children and mentally handicapped victims of sexual abuse, have joined together and become the Busan Sunflower Women & Children’s Center.


여성부, 부산광역시, 부산지방경찰청에서 지원하고 동아대학교병원에서 수탁운영하는 여성 • 아동 폭력피해자 전담센터입니다.

With support from the Ministry of Gender Equality, the Busan Metropolitan City Council, and the Busan Metropolitan Police Agency, Dong-a University Hospital has been given the responsibility of operating the center, which provides consultations for female and child victims of abuse.

가족폭력, 성매매, 학교폭력, 성폭력 피해를 입은 여성과 아동을 보호하고 지원하고 치료합니다.

Women and children who are the victims of family violence, sex trafficking, school violence, and sexual abuse can receive protection and treatment at the center.

의사, 간호사, 임상심리사, 심리치료사, 성폭력 • 가정폭력 전문상담원, 여성 경찰관 등 각 분야 전문가들이 상주하고 있어 위기상황에서 가장 전문적이고 질 높은 상담, 의료, 심리치료, 수사, 법률 서비스를 무상으로 제공합니다.

Experts in many fields such as doctors, nurses, clinical psychologists, psychological therapists, family and sexual violence consultants, and female police officers and so on will be permanently stationed at the center, and when you are in a crisis you can receive the best professional and highest quality consultations, medical treatment, psychological counseling, legal advice, and assistance with launching criminal investigations. All these services are provided free of charge. (end)


In my experience, usually the amalgamation of two government institutions in any country is in response to cost-cutting. Fortunately however, there’s a great deal of indirect evidence to suggest that that isn’t the case here.

First, note that the ad is actually quite dated, mentioning that the amalgamation was effective from January the 1st for instance (although the center didn’t officially open until February the 9th), and in particular that the Ministry of Gender Equality has a supporting role in it, whereas the Ministry actually reconverted back to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Affairs (여성가족부/MOGEF) back in March. Presumably then, the ad has already been posted on Busan subway trains once before, probably late last year or early this one.

Why suddenly post the same ones again in late September then? What has changed to prompt that?

As Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling has well-documented, what has changed is the public perception that there has been a sudden and dramatic increase in the numbers of sex crimes against children, whereas in fact they have remained steady (but appallingly high) for years:

There is not a “recent series” of such sexual crimes – this is always happening. It’s just that the media has decided – as it does whenever a particular case angers people – to highlight these cases, which would usually either not be covered or covered by perhaps only one or two media outlets, and which are now linked together in articles in order to point to a great problem that exists. To be sure, there have been several laws passed since the murder of Lee Yu-ri in March (and the Yeongdeungpo case in June), and it’s great that the issue has finally gotten enough attention to get things moving (see here for a brief history of the slow pace of change since 2006). I’m not entirely sure that the solutions being offered are always the best ideas, however, and public fury (and worry) whipped up by this media coverage may be putting pressure on politicians to act first and think later.

And see past Korean Gender Reader posts for more details of those and other sexual crimes. By coincidence, one of the most notorious of those – the murder of Lee Yu-ri – also occurred in Busan, and several of my coworkers here have reported seeing rooms like that on the right pop up in Busan public schools they teach at in the months since, although unfortunately they have no information on the quality of their staffing or how often they are utilized. Have any readers also noticed them, in Busan or elsewhere?

(Note that the English translation on it may be a little misleading though: a better one would be “Consultation Room [for] Mental Anguish [caused by] Sexual Harassment or Sexual Violence”)

Regardless, the point is that given the current climate then it would be wise for the government to highlight all it is doing to prevent sexual violence, let alone to continue or even increase funding to women and children’s centers. And however cynical and reactionary the motives, this is to be applauded.

Granted, the amalgamation was decided and instituted well before the public outcry over the supposed recent spate of sexual crimes against children. But that doesn’t necessarily imply it was the result of a reduction of funding: although it may receive little if any funding from MOGEF for instance, I find it significant that the Ministry’s assumption of old responsibilities came with a big increase in staff and 4 times larger budget (albeit from a base of 0.03% of the government total), so when the plans for the change were announced late last year there was already a political climate conducive to more funding for feminist causes.  Signs of a change of heart from President Lee Myung-bak also perhaps, who originally promised to abolish it before his election, only to back down and merely considerably downsize it in response to protests afterwards?

Alas, quite the opposite: in fact, he is using MOGEF to raise the dire birth rate by – wait for it – criminalizing abortion, as I explain in detail here. But to play devils’ advocate however, perhaps this blinds us to some of the positives that it has achieved?

One is its survey of teenage entertainers in August, which – among other things – revealed that many were pressured by their managers to wear revealing costumes, and which ultimately resulted in the National Assembly’s setting up of a committee (albeit under a different ministry) to further investigate MOGEF’s findings. And which after hearing evidence from entertainment company CEOs has just laid down new regulations for the treatment of minors in the entertainment industry (see here and here also for more background).

And finally, take the recent video produced by MOGEF below, which encourages people to pay more attention to the needs of immigrant women. Granted, it’s just a video, and again it may be just be in response to the recent murder of a Vietnamese bride by her husband after only 8 days in the country (see #13 here), but then it’s not like such efforts started only recently. One thing that instantly comes to mind for instance, is the above survey that was sent to all foreign spouses in Korea in August last year (see #3 here), in an attempt to better find out their specific needs.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Any other positives readers can think of, however minor, then please pass them on!^^

Update: As per request, here is what the voiceover in the video is saying (and I’ve put the additional text in brackets as it came up):

이주여성들을 힘들게 하는건 (부부갈등 상담 8, 452건)

The things that make it difficult for migrant women… (8, 452 consultations for married couples having difficulties)

어려운 한국어와 (가정폭력 상담 4205 건 [2009년 이주여성 긴급지원센터 상담통계)

…are difficult Korean… (4205 consultations over family violence/abuse [2009 Statistics from Migrant Urgent Help & Consultation Centers])

낯선 환경, 다른 문화

…the strange environment, the different culture…

그리고 우리의 무관심입니다. (국제결혼 이주여성 16만여명)

…and our indifference. (lit. international marriage migrant women 160,000 women [James: just in 2009?])

이주여성들에게 작은 관심은 큰 힘이 됩니다.

Just a little help and support helps migrant women a great deal (same in the text)

이주여성들의 힘이 되어주세요.

Please be strong and supportive to them.

이캠폐인은 여성가족부와 복권위원회가 함께 합니다. (이주여성긴급지원센터, 1577-1336)

This campaign is brought to you by MOGEF and The Lottery Commission. (Migrant Women’s Urgent Help & Consultation Centers: 1577-1366)

And by coincidence, something else positive that MOGEF has some role in: a seminar about women’s career development at my university tomorrow (stalkers, take note of which one). Things like this seem to go on there at least once a month or so.

Maybe this has something to do with that, which I only just noticed today:

Please let me know if anyone would like a translation of the first poster. Meanwhile, do any other Korea-based readers have anything similar at their own universities?

25 thoughts on “Countering Sexual Violence in Korea (Updated)

  1. Those centers are all well and good, but it might be a good idea to tackle the root causes of the problem as well. No good dealing with the smoke if the fire is still happily burning down the house. But at least something positive seems to be happening. It can get a bit depressing, hearing all the strange things going on over there.

    And it never fails to amaze how silly (and generally misogynistic) the very conservative are.


  2. I’d say that the abortion law is, easily, such an epic step back that it makes all the positives pale in comparison. Just look at the map on wikipedias ‘abortion law’-article and weep. The power to control their own sexuality, and fertility, has historically been one of the most important developments in women’s rights, and that korean women would should be deprived of that…well, let’s just say any positive developments would have to be absolutely gigantic in scope to compensate. *saddended*


    1. Well put. Sometimes I do worry that I’m too negative about Korean gender relations (I’m often accused of having a very negative blog), and I admit that that is what partially motivated me to write this post. But then there’s very good reason to be cynical.


      1. Just something that’s occurred to me: this doesn’t negate your point of course, but to play devil’s advocate for MOGEF again, as I explain in that earlier post the process of criminalizing abortion was already begun by Lee Myung-bak last year with the support of various medical groups, and the then Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family Affairs (MHWFA) was given the main responsibility of carrying it out. Once MOGEF re-inherited its jurisdiction over those “Family Affairs” however, then regardless of the personal stances of individuals within the Ministry (or of the Minister or Ministry as a whole) then they (or she or it) would likely have been in little position to challenge the Lee Myung-bak administration on that issue. Indeed, its greater funding and huge increase in staffing and resources may have been contingent on them not doing precisely that.


        1. would it be reasonable to link the effects of religion and gender equality at this point?

          i’m fairly certain that LMB’s decision to criminalise abortion is a direct result of his religious views. so if we’re saying that the abortion laws are a huge step backwards for gender equality, wouldn’t the “christianisation” of korea also be a playing an important part?


          1. An old article about the abortion laws in South-Korea. I don’t know how relevant it is today.


            And I think one of the last paragraphs is worth considering.

            The issue of abortion is a minefield to say the least. There is a lot that hangs in the balance with the decision to abort a fetus.

            @ Smeaton
            Abortion laws are a huge step backwards for gender equality? So rights such as the right to study, the right for equal income, the right to choose their own marriage partner etc. these less important or more important? I agree that maybe the abortion laws have an effect on the life of women. But what I want to know is how many women get an abortion? And how did they get in a situation where it was needed to get an abortion? The right to choose whichever partner they want to have and the right to practice unsafe sex can be considered to lead to abortion.

            I think if the social position of single mothers and a lot of other social issues were to change then maybe there wouldn’t be a need for abortion.

            But maybe a world in which abortion is not needed is an ideal.

            Also I’ve talked about the “Christianisation” of Korea with a female friend of mine before and she seems to think it improved the lives of women a great deal in Korea. So can you clarify about what you mean with the “Christianisation” of Korea playing an important part in huge steps backwards for gender equality?


            ~ before things are misinterpreted. I don’t mean to be offensive and I’m just trying to understand your position and to communicate my own. Also if you think I misinterpreted things myself please clarify.


          2. I’m about to hit the sack so I can’t respond properly right now sorry Marvin, but some quick links and points for your interest (and David’s and anyone else for that matter!).

            First, some info on Lee Myung-bak’s strong religious views here and here, which I think demonstrate that it is somewhat misguided not to to take them into account when judging and trying to understand his policy on abortion at least, let alone his presidency as a whole. Moreover, the latter (Wikipedia) link talks a little about his own specific attempts to Christianize Korea since he became Mayor of Seoul and then Korean President, which I think is what David was referring to (and which doesn’t negate the improvements it may have made to Korean women’s lives historically).

            Next, to be frank I really have no idea why you’re asking the questions you ask David: by virtually any definition of the term, criminalizing abortion is indeed a huge step backwards for gender equality regardless of if the right to study and choose their own marriage partner are more or less important, so I fail to see the relevance. But regardless, as I make clear here, here and here (for starters) and Michael Hurt does more succinctly here, Korea had (and probably still has) one of the biggest abortion industries in the world because the combination of an almost complete lack of sex-education, sexual mores that inhibit women from using contraception, vested interests scaremongering against use of the pill, and a general sticking one’s head in the sand attitude to sexual issues in general in Korea ultimately means that abortions are often used in lieu of contraception, and it is not at all uncommon to hear of women having had 5-10 or even more.

            While everyone would agree that that is bad and that the abortion rate should go down however, that does absolutely not mean that the right for women “to choose whichever partner they want to have and the right to practice unsafe sex can be considered to lead to abortion”. Hell, the first statement is a non-sequitur (If women couldn’t choose their sex partners then that would that lead to less abortion you’re saying?), as is the second unless you mean more abortion. But regardless, if we imagine that women didn’t have either of those rights – and which I strongly suspect from your comment that you think women should perhaps be stripped of – then, well…all of human history suggests that they’re going to do both anyway, legally or otherwise. At least with legal abortion though, then they not going to die in their thousands each year as a result of trying to terminate their unwanted pregnancies via backstreet abortionists.

            Also, there will always be a need for abortion: it sounds cynical, but I am certain that there will always be rapes and sexual abuse by family members (see a very informative and thought-provoking article by Gord Sellar on that here), some of which will result in pregnancy; there will will always be fetuses with medical conditions that ensure it would be kinder to either the fetuses, or mothers, or both that they are aborted; there will be pregnancies that will be dangerous for the health of the mother; and finally, contraception still fails sometimes, and/or people get sloppy (no pun intended) in the heat of the moment. So sure, “if the social position of single mothers and a lot of other social issues were to change then…”, well, that would be great, but you can do a hell of a lot more to lower the abortion rate by providing comprehensive sex-education, ready access to contraception, and removing the stigmas associated with women’s sexual freedom.

            Not quite as quick a comment as I planned then, and, alas, not quite as eloquent as if I’d waited until the morning. But frankly, you definitely seem to be creating a strawman argument with your questions about the relative importance of various rights. And while I appreciate that you don’t mean to be offensive, that qualification can only cover so much, as your assertion that women’s sexual freedom “can be considered to lead to abortion” is either a) completely inane, or b) implies that you think it should be curtailed in order to reduce the abortion rate. And if the latter, then I’m afraid you’re not going to get much sympathy on this blog.


          3. First of all I want to say that I am in no way for the restriction of any person’s freedom. Like Thomas Aquinas says “Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” And I do think that women should have the choice to do whatever they want. Maybe someone will read this now and they can keep it in the back of their head whenever I post in the future. I’ve been raised in the Netherlands and I have had a liberal upbringing. Even if it may come across as me saying that abortion should be illegal this is in no way my position on the matter.

            At the same time questioning whether or not abortion is a good idea is something that shouldn’t be muted either. I think in a perfect society both criticism and support of such a practice can live side by side. Also I think that whenever I support something that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t question the morality of the act itself. So in a sense I’m questioning the wisdom of abortion. Not women’s right to make that choice.

            Yes saying that it lead to abortion was a rather quick sentence and one which I shouldn’t have posted without some kind of explanation. What I said was that they have the right to do that. I’m not saying in that sentence that abortion is wrong and thus all these things should be banned. I’m saying that there is a need for a discussion like this is that there is the positive(!) development of women’s sexual freedom. So al though I should have explained it more thoroughly. I don’t think the sentence is negative in anyway. It’s just stating that these things lead to the other. Not that either of these practices should be illegal or banned. My statement is that sexual freedom leads to more unwanted(accidental) pregnancies.

            I don’t know the situation of contraception awareness etc in Korea so I’ll read those articles tomorrow.

            Also I agree on the fact that Lee Myung-Bak is Christian and a vocal one at that. But this is the only thing I could find of his stand on abortion.

            Lee Myung-Bak on abortion;
            When he was asked what he thinks of abortion, he replied: “Basically, I’m against it, but you know, there are inevitable cases. For instance, if a child is to be born as disabled, it seems this inevitable abortion should be accepted. However, fundamentally I’m against abortion. It may sound conservative.”

            And to say that in the case of rape and medical conditions etc. not legalizing abortion is inhuman is a non-argument. This isn’t illegal in Korea as far I could see. So stating that to show the inhumanity of it is of course nice if it were in fact true.

            Also I think sloppiness or contraception failing is in the end your own responsibility. Getting an abortion because you’ve forsaken to take responsibility at the right moment is something that I think is wrong. But once again… I’m not saying abortion should be illegal because of it. It’s just my stance on responsibility and the choice not to give birth.

            And finally I’d like to address the issue of the Christianisation playing a major role in this giant step backwards. I think there is a tendency in a lot of people these days to link negative aspects only to Christianity. So I wanted to show there have been some very positive developments as well. Also when I look at the map of abortion law. Then I see that the most liberal laws are the ones in Liberal Christian countries. So al though I agree that there is a strong conservative element in Christianity that opposes some of these elements I think it’s wrong to put the label “Christianity” on this movement.

            So I’m opposing the generalization, that’s all. And I’m well aware of the stance of the Catholic church etc. Anyway. Here’s a link describing their stance and that of the Anglican church.

            He’s saying: “would it be reasonable to link gender equality and religion?”
            And then he follows it up by a statement on abortion and Christianisation.

            There are 2 major flows with this. First of all: gender equality is not the same as the right to terminate the life of a fetus. Even though it’s the life of a woman we’re talking about and the consequence of giving birth. What I mean to say is that the defenders of these laws are talking about the termination of life not about the consequences on a woman’s life. The detractors are talking about the consequences.

            Gender equality is concerned with the same question, but I don’t think it should be linked as David seems to do. Because it implies the following: “Christians are against gender equality.”

            “Is it reasonable to link pro-life advocacy to Christianity”? would be a more correct question. And then again are there really only Christians in this pro-life advocacy group? I think there are plenty of people who think that abortion is morally wrong Christian’s and others alike. Al though Christians often do seem to take a stand in public for this kind of thing.

            But even though I think their belief that it should be illegal is wrong. At the same time I think it’s quite positive that people stand up for what they believe in. As long as no one proves them wrong then why shouldn’t they? Today’s society is too much a society of coach-potatoes. For example I think there is a term for people who “support” a certain cause on Facebook, but do little more than that. If there was an active discussion of social issues a lot of problems could be discussed…. ok I’ll stop there because I’m going slightly off course again.

            Ok I think I’m getting lost in my own post again. Quickly summing up. I think everybody should have the freedom to make whatever choice they think is right. And I think religion and gender equality can’t be linked.

            I wish I could write more, because I’m quite sure I’ve left some holes in my text at some place. But unfortunately I’m busy enough as it is.

            One more thing. I very much appreciate that you took the time to reply and show the mistakes in my post. Also I wish more people would make post like yours so that there could actually be a discussion and a growth of awareness on so many issues. Unfortunately it seems that most people are content with only writing a few lines of support or discontent when it comes to issues that obviously go beyond such limited statements.


          4. your first mistake is to insult me by referring to me as ‘smeaton’.

            your second mistake was to insult my wife by telling her that she has no right to make decisions about her own body because your imaginary god says so.

            “I think if the social position of single mothers and a lot of other social issues were to change then maybe there wouldn’t be a need for abortion.”

            you are wrong. dead wrong. social stigmas regarding single mothers are a problem, sure, but stigmas are completely different to LAWS preventing a women’s right to control her own body. the church and government (which are probably the same to you) have no right to tell a woman what she can or cannot do with her body. stigmas will change over time, religious ignorance never changes.

            further, if a woman falls pregnant and makes the decision to abort it, that’s her decision. not yours. and you are wrong to judge her for it … judge not, that ye be not judged. you have no right to punish a woman’s mistake by forcing her to make a second mistake (keeping an unwanted baby) which will affect the rest of her life.

            your third mistake is that we are talking about the liberation of korean women. you choose to join the conversation not to discuss women’s rights but to promote your christian ideology. you’re here defending your religion. your agenda is clear – defend christian propaganda.

            finally, we can all quote wikipedia to our own benefit.


            here’s a few more shining examples of true christian faith.


            is this what you want? korea to become more like america? promote ‘right to life’ and then kill people defending it.

            thomas jefferson once famously said “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.” … and this i agree with.

            i’m not going to argue with you. you have no interest in genuine discussion, you are only interested in religious propaganda … christians never change their opinions, they merely rearrange their prejudices.

            if you do want to earn the respect of non-theists, then try doing something practical with your time. instead of spewing hate over the internet, try going out and shutting down all the anma parlours and room salons. try stopping the companies which throw sex advertising all over the streets of kangnam. korea’s sex industry is a disgrace and seriously demeans women.

            show me that you take women’s rights seriously and use the power of your church to stop korea’s out of control sex industry.

            but i don’t think you’re interested in that …

            james is much more eloquent and tolerant than me. so i’ll let him argue with you … i don’t see the point.


            /sorry for the rant james. :)


          5. Firstly sorry for insulting you with your lastname…. Secondly sorry for not insulting your wife and you assuming I did.

            I’m glad that you read my second post…… because obviously it discredits a lot of your reply. I never said that women shouldn’t have to right to abort the fetus. I’m just saying that there is a difference between allowing it and discussing the morality of it…. Seriously.

            Christian propaganda? What the hell. I’m just saying that your post is obviously an attack on Christianity as a whole which is ill-informed.

            Respect of non-theists? I want the respect of people who use their brain to reason for themselves. Not those who follow dogma be it that of the church or another.

            Man …. seriously. Are you doing those things? Stopping Korea’s sex industry etc.? If so kudos and great respect to you, but if not… Then it’s not a very valid argument.

            Please don’t tell me I don’t take women’s rights seriously… For my part I don’t even make a distinction between anyones right.

            Wow. Obvious anti-Christian rant that is spilling over with assumptions and blame.


          6. “I’m just saying that your post is obviously an attack on Christianity as a whole which is ill-informed.” I should say ill-disguised and a nice attempt to promote your own agenda of whatever it is you’re trying to promote.

            Propaganda of whatever it is you are an adherent of.


          7. Also I doubt anyone will still read this… but just in case.
            Not all Christians want to have control of the state as you seem to assume.
            I think your world view is… highly skewed to say the least.
            I wonder what your research about the secular state turned up in the years that you’ve been alive. And if you even did research towards the rise of this institution.

            For easier access here is a wikipedia link…

            I hope you don’t judge everyone you know with the same level of ignorance.


  3. What Ola said.
    Really, all we can see here is evidence of a few signs. I think your most accurate point above was the line about not knowing what those ‘relief’ rooms actually offer, by whom, and how. Please pardon the cynicism, but i’d not be surprised if they were just empty rooms, without even locks on the inside of the doors to provide for the immediate feeling of security for the user of the moment. As for having a trained specialist supervisor on hand to assist the user… i really hope to be convinced soon.


    1. Until I know more about the rooms, then I’ll give the schools the benefit of the doubt, but yeah: I’m not very optimistic either. There are already virtually no specialist sex-education teachers in Korea for instance (and not unrelated, virtually no sex-education provided), so I highly doubt there are trained specialist supervisors specifically for sexual harassment and rape-counseling and so on (at least, not enough to be stationed at schools or be on call) . Possibly the rooms might just be staffed by the school nurses though, who (hopefully) might have recently received some extra training along those lines?

      But “most accurate point”?^^ Well, some of the post is speculation I admit, but the information about the Sunflower Center at least is all accurate, and Korean sources confirm that it does indeed have permanently-stationed specialists, available on and off-line 24 hours a day.


  4. Excuse my ignorance when I say this but not really knowing what the video is saying, how can it encourage people to care more about the “need of foreign spouses” when ethnic Koreans’ can be beat to the himmels and people just watch regardless of who was “itching to be beat for their disrespect of someones shoe which is older than that [insert something that makes them socially inferior/off-banmal limits in that situation ect]”? *based on the many blog/news stories I read about on-lookers doing squat*

    *BLAH BLAH NON SENSICAL STUFF* I dunno, it seems anything that’s a trending problem in Korea will produce a TV show or commercial… kind of like how you see elsewhere in the world – if a mass killer strikes, you’ll get 2-4 documentaries, when a celebrity dies 4-6 docus ect… but in the UK I havent really seen commercials that contradict the MAJORITY social norm as much as “looking out for that foreign person”… e.g. I don’t see the Benefit Fraud commercial and think “oh I recall how me and my friends had a wonderful discussion on how much money we were going to claim on benefits last night” or for the drink/drug driving – regardless of binge drinking being a problem here, it’s still talking about ‘us’ and then the people around us first rather than stranger wiguks in our country being all foreignery.*/BLAH BLAH NONSENSICAL STUFF*

    I dunno, it’s so hard to express what’s in my mind :( Basically, I hear so many stories of “onlooking” in Korea that that commercial seemed like a bit of a joke.


    1. Along with ignorance I probably sound a bit ethno-arrogant (yes I made it up just now)… not my intention though.

      The UK is not a “greater place” but obviously my only option having not even spent 1 year in Korea is to compare through media :(


      1. No problem, and I hear you about the commercial being useless in itself, and the Korean government’s (and in fact, just as often companies’) tendency to instantly produce a commercial about whatever problem in Korea is trending at the moment.

        I’m about to head off to work now, but I’ll write up a transcript and translation of the commercial after I get home tonight.

        Not aimed at you personally, but doesn’t anyone have a positive story though?^^


  5. to add to the positives, i know a girl whose job it is to counter the issues of interracial marriages amongst farming families.

    it’s fairly well known that many korean women don’t want to live in rural areas or marry farmers. this is a double edged sword really; it represents the power that korean women now have, but also shows the problems that rural korean men (who are tied to the land by their obligations) have finding a wife.

    so in this sense, women have become liberated in a way that men are not: the ability to choose where they live and choose not to accept the responsibility of their family obligations (such as taking over a farm).

    back to the point, my friend’s job is to travel to these areas and work with the (mostly) cambodian and filipino brides who marry korean farmers. it’s fairly well known that these women lead terrible lives. their husbands treat them poorly, they have no power or choice, their children (half koreans) are discriminated against (quite harshly) at school. my friend is one of the women whose responsibility is to tackle these issues, provide support for immigrant wives and help protect them from husband soju binges.

    however the biggest problem (according to the woman who works in this field) is the negative reputation korea is getting in other asian countries. these women write to their families at home and explain how terrible their life is in korea. there’s a growing resentment towards koreans (men in particular) and the idea of a being a mail-order bride to korea is become something that other asian countries are seeing as an act of desperation.

    my friend has even been to cambodia and the philippines to do workshops and public relations in an effort to show that not all korean men do this.

    so while the story is quite bad and reflects on korea badly … there is apparently a lot of effort being made to fix the problem at the source (in farming communities) and also tackle the negative image korea is creating as a result of this problem.

    honestly, i’ve been here 10 years and korea has changed drastically during that time. it’s really amazing to see!!


    1. But the question is, how many resources (basically it comes down to $ or won) are put into services like that? How many people like your friend are there and how well resourced are they? Given what seems like the sheer numbers involved, there would need to be an awful lot of well resourced, well trained and determined people doing what your friend does.

      And then you’d have to figure out if they were making an effective difference, or whether things should be done differently.

      Given how entrenched the beliefs that she is fighting against are, it would be a very difficult job. She should get paid alot and get 2 months holidays a year!


    2. Thanks very much David. And by the way, I’ve only just(!) received your email sorry: I haven’t used my gmail account in months I’m afraid, so I had no idea (james_turnbull[at]rocketmail[dot]com is my main one). Will email you back soon!


  6. Baby steps, yes. But no more than that.

    No matter how many of these so-called centers for women are established, they will stay empty until the fundamental issues are resolved. For instance, the widespread stigmata against victims of domestic violence, the insistence of family members that the incidents be hushed up, and the indifference of the low-wage and low-education social workers to those that desperately need their aid.

    Domestic violence is accepted as a part of life. Period.

    More then twenty years of domestic violence, resulting in seven emergency room visits and ruptured spleen and several broken bones, and no way out. You even get used to it, after the first decade or so.

    The existence of these shelters mean nothing to you if there are vulnerable family members in your household who will surely become the next victim if you move out, and if the aforementioned family member is so loyal to her son that she would rather risk her daughter’s and her own life than put his highly successful career at risk by giving him a police record. In a bittersweet way, it’s funny, really. Funny because I am a Korean too, born and bred, so I understand her point of view and love her even though her consistent refusal to move out with me is putting my life at risk.

    In the end, I got so desperate that I resorted to looking through the internet for any help, any kind of help at all, and I ended up here, but hey, there are things that you cannot change. And I have it better than some of my other friends. I attend Seoul Natl. University and I have been able to maneuver the social prestige that stem from my academic success to coerce my brother to use his fists instead of sharp implements.

    (Another sad fact about Korea; you are a lot more likely to be paid any attention if you go to the police if you are a student of a prestigious university, than if you are a high school dropout with no money or background. The same old stories about abuse or drunk scuffles become sensational if the so-called ‘elite students’ are involved. If you try hard enough, and your injuries are bloody enough, you might even get a journalist to pay attention. And my brother knows it, and knows that consideration for mother is the only thing that is holding me back.)

    Just wanted to mention that the concept of ‘family loyalty’ covers up a lot of domestic violence in Korea, which, under the banal surface of everyday life, is common, very very common. The government might be moving, but until the Korean culture is such that the person who most wants to cover up the incident is no longer the closest family members of both the abuser and the victim, such ‘open’ centers would do nothing to stem the domestic violence in Korea.

    But people adjust to it. And life goes on.


    1. Thank you for your comments and insights, and I’m sorry to hear about your own personal experiences. I will though, remain guardedly optimistic that the new women’s centers aren’t empty until I see evidence to the contrary, although I admit that if the centers indeed aren’t well-used then the government will be rather reluctant and unlikely to admit that.


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