Seniors Routinely Sexually Harass Juniors during “Membership Training”?


When I first came to Korea in 2000, I soon got used to the notion that people should use nopimmal (높임말; respectful language) to their obvious “superiors”, such as their parents and bosses. But also to friends, even if they were just a year or two older? Call me a cultural imperialist, but I still balk at the notion that such people are genuine friends, and God knows what they’d make of the usually whiskey-fueled language my late friend and I, then twice my age, would use with each other (let alone what we usually talked about).

Still, it came as a real shock to hear students using it to some of their classmates at my university, even though the recipients were only just a few months older (I asked). In fairness, that didn’t happen at all at my wife’s university when she was a student, but suffice to say that I’m no longer particularly surprised when I hear of “seniors” taking advantage of “juniors” in various forms at Korean universities. And especially not on “Membership Training” (MT), which as you probably know involves a lot of drinking and various orientation and initiation rituals, as explained in the following report:

(As translator Marilyn notes, makjang means “extreme, in a negative way”, and is usually used to describe dramas where crazy things happen. Meanwhile, with thanks to SuzyinSeoul, the “OT” in the title means “Orientation Training”, one’s first MT)

(Sources: left, right)

막장 OT? ‘학내 성희롱’의 문제 보아야 / Makjang OT?  The problem of “school sexual harassment” must be considered

성희롱문제의 사각지대에 놓인 학생간 성희롱 / Sexual harassment among students is an unseen part of the problem of sexual harassment

얼마 전 인터넷 상에서는 서울 소재 모 대학의 신입생환영회가 논란이 되었다. 지난달 26일 인터넷 포털사이트 게시판에 “대학교 오리엔테이션, 이래도 되는 건가요?”라며 오른 글이 시작이었다.

Recently, the welcoming ceremony for new students at X University in Seoul has become a controversy on the Internet.  It was started by a post, titled “At a university orientation, is this really okay?” and put up on an Internet portal site’s message board on the 26th of last month [February].

성적 수치심 느끼게 하는게임시킨 선배들 / Seniors who make games that cause [juniors] to feel sexual shame

글 쓴이는 몇 장의 사진과 함께 “오리엔테이션에서 선배들이 후배들에게 성적으로 부담스럽거나, 수치심을 느낄 수 있는 행동들을 많이 시킨다”고 고발했다. 사진 속에는 남녀 신입생들이 몸을 밀착시키고 성행위를 연상시키는 동작을 취하는 모습들이 담겨 있었다. ‘게임’을 명목으로 강요된 것이었다. 글쓴이에 따르면, 술자리에서는 “정말 심한” 벌칙들도 많았다고 한다.

The writer of the post put up several pictures and charged, “At orientation, seniors force their juniors to do sexually embarrassing or shameful things.”  In the pictures, new male and female students press their bodies against each other and make sexually suggestive movements.   This was coerced under the pretext of a “game.”   According to the post’s writer there are also many “really severe” penalties at drinking parties.

(한 포털사이트에 성적 수치심을 느끼게 하는 ‘게임’을 강요하는 ‘신입생 오리엔테이션’ 문화를 고발한 글이 올라와 논란이 일었다.)

(Caption [to above image]: A post charging that a “new-student orientation” culture forces the playing of “games” that cause sexual shame was put up on a portal site and became a controversy.)


문제의 사진들은 ‘막장 OT’라는 이름이 붙어 여러 게시판들로 퍼져나갔고, 몇몇 언론에서도 이 사건을 보도하면서 관련 학교와 학생들에게 비난이 가해졌다. 이후 사건은 해당 학교 총학생회가 사과문을 게시하는 선으로 마무리되었다.

The pictures were named “Makjang OT” and spread to several message boards, and as several media outlets reported on this story as well, the school and students involved were subjected to criticism.  After that, the student government at the university brought the incident to a close by posting a written apology.

이 사건은 인터넷 여론이 흔히 그렇듯 사건의 선정성에만 초점이 맞춰져, 관련 대학을 공격하거나 폄하하는 데에만 치중되었다는 인상을 준다. 그리고 논란의 열기는 금방 식었다.

As usual, public opinion on the Internet has focused on the sexual aspects of the story and so given the impression that it has only concentrated on attacking or disparaging the university in this area. Also, the heat of the controversy cooled down immediately.

이 사건이 문제인 것은 건전해야 할 대학 내 행사에서 선정적인 행위를 했기 때문이 아니다. 선배들의 권위를 내세워 신입생들에게 원하지 않는 성적인 행위를 강요했다는 점이 본질적인 문제다. 명백한 학내 성희롱이다.

The problem in this matter is not that there were sexual actions at university events that should be wholesome.  The essential problem is that seniors asserting their authority forced new students to do sexual actions they didn’t want to do.  This is unmistakable school sexual harassment.


하늘같은선배 작아지는 신입생들 / New students that shrink in front of ‘god-like’ seniors

이제 막 대학을 들어온 신입생과 ‘선배’들 사이에는 막강한 권력관계가 작동한다. 대학생활에서 선배는 어떤 면에서 교수보다 더 어려운 존재다. 더구나 신입생 오리엔테이션은 이제 막 대학을 입학해 어리둥절하고 동기들과도 서먹할 때 치러지니 1학년들은 선배들 앞에서 심리적으로 위축되기 쉽다. 더구나 ‘전통’이라고 우기니 ‘참아야 되나’ 헷갈리기까지 할 것이다.

These days there is a strong power-imbalance operating between students who have just started university and their “seniors.”  In university life, relationships with seniors are more difficult than those with professors in every way.  Moreover, new-student orientations happen when students, having just started university, are dazed and still unfamiliar with their peers, so it is easy for first-year students to shrivel psychologically in front of their seniors.  Furthermore, seniors insist that it’s “tradition” so students become confused and think “Maybe I have to endure this?”

성희롱은 권력관계 안에서 일어난다. 이러한 속성 때문에 남학생이 많은 과, 권위주의적이고 위계질서가 강하게 잡혀 있는 과일 수록 신입생 환영회 때 이러한 ‘게임’을 즐기는 경향이 강해지고 ‘게임’의 강도도 높아질 것이라 추측할 수 있다.


Sexual harassment arises inside power-imbalances.  Because of this attribute, it can be supposed that the more male students a department has and the more authoritarian and the stronger the hierarchical structure in the department, the stronger the tendency to enjoy this kind of “game” and the more intense the “games” are at new-student welcoming events.

시대가 변화한 부분이 있으니, 아마도 이러한 신입생 환영행사는 일반적으로 행해지는 수준의 것은 아닐 것이다. 그러나 아주 극단적인 예만도 아닌 것 같다. 관련 게시물들의 누리꾼 댓글에서도 비슷한 경험을 털어놓는 것을 심심치 않게 발견할 수 있다. 남성에게 구강성교를 해주는 여성의 모습을 연상시키는 동작을 하는 남학생들이 찍힌, 모 체육대학의 신입생 오리엔테이션 사진을 올린 이도 있었다.

Though there is the element of the changing times, this kind of new-student welcoming event probably isn’t common. However, it doesn’t seem to be an extreme example, either.  In the replies of the visitors to the message boards in question as well, it is not hard to find confessions of similar experiences.  There were also pictures from the new-student orientation at X Sport University [a university for athletes and coaches] which show male students making movements suggestive of women giving oral sex to men.


대학사회, 성희롱 문제제기 여전히 어려워 / In university culture, making sexual harassment complaints difficult as ever

이번 사건을 문제제기한 학생은 학내 게시판이 아닌, 포털사이트를 이용해 글을 올렸다. 이는 문제의 ‘게임’이 ‘전통’으로 굳어질 수 있었던 배경과 관련된다.

The student who reported this incident used a non-university portal site to put up his/her post. This is related to the setting in which the “game” in question was allowed to become “tradition.”

지난 해 1월, 소위 ‘명문대생‘이 1학년 여학생들을 성추행한 사건이 논란을 일으켰다. 당시 한 피해자가 익명게시판을 통해 문제제기 하자 다른 피해자들이 나타나면서 피해자는 20여명까지 불어났다.

In January of last year, an incident in which so-called “students of a prestigious university” sexually molested first-year female students engendered controversy.  At that time, a victim made her complaint on an anonymous message board; other victims then came forward, until their number reached around 20 women.

왜 20여명에 달하는 피해자들은 성추행을 당하고도 입을 다물고 있을 수밖에 없었을까. 여전히 성희롱‧성폭력은 대학 사회 내에서도 쉽게 공론화하기 어려운 문제이기 때문이다.

Why is it that though the number of victims who were sexually molested reached about 20, they couldn’t do anything but keep quiet?  It is because even in university society, it is still difficult to publicly discuss sexual harassment and sexual violence.


‘명문대생‘ 성추행 사건이 문제가 되었던 당시, 취업전문 포털사이트 ‘커리어’가 이틀간 대학생 768명을 대상으로 진행한 설문 조사에 따르면, 전체 여성 응답자 중 33.3%가 대학생활 중 ‘성희롱이나 성추행을 당했다’고 답했다.

When the “students of a prestigious university” incident became a problem, the job portal site “Career” surveyed 768 university students over the course of two days, and found that 33.3% of female respondents said they “have been sexually molested or harassed” during university life.

주된 가해자(복수응답)는 78.0%가 ‘선배’였다. 흔히 학내성희롱의 주된 가해자로 떠올리게 되는 ‘교수’를 지목한 대답은 33.3%였다. 대응방법을 묻는 질문에는 응답자의 66.5%가 ‘그냥 참고 넘겼다’고 답했다. 대응하지 않고 그냥 넘어간 이유는 ‘가해자와의 관계를 유지하기 위해서(66.9%)’가 가장 컸다.

The main perpetrators (more than one response possible) were “seniors,” at 78.0%.  “Professors”, who usually come to mind as the main perpetrators when one thinks of university sexual harassment, were pointed at by 33.3% of responses.  When asked how they dealt with it, 66.5% of respondents chose, “just bore it and moved past it.”  The biggest reason that they just let it go was, “To maintain a relationship with the perpetrator,” at 66.9%.

이렇듯 학생과 학생 사이에 발생되는 성희롱은 학내 성희롱 문제에 있어서 실질적으로 큰 비중을 차지하며 문제제기 하기도 어렵다. 그런데 교사와 교사, 교사와 학생 간 성희롱의 경우 성희롱 관련법의 규제의 대상이 되는 반면, 학생 간에 벌어지는 성희롱문제는 제외되고 있다. 따라서 학칙에 의존할 수밖에 없다.

Though this kind of student-on-student sexual harassment makes up a relatively large part of in-university sexual harassment, it is also hard to make a complaint.  Unlike in the case of sexual harassment between professors, or between professors and students, [public] regulations leave out sexual harassment that occurs between students.  Therefore, there is no choice but to rely on the school’s rules.


그러나 성희롱을 ‘전통’으로 미화할 수 있는 대학사회에 이러한 미온적인 처치가 얼마나 큰 변화를 이끌어낼 수 있을까.

However, in a university culture that glamorizes sexual harassment as “tradition,” how big are the changes we can hope to effect to this kind of mediocre situation?

앞서 언급한 설문조사에서 전체 응답자 중 51.3%만이 성희롱 문제해결을 위한 대학 내 전담기관이나 담당자가 있다고 답했다. 대학사회에서 학생간의 성희롱이 사각지대에 놓여 있다는 사실을 이를 통해서도 유추해볼 수 있다. 관련 대책이 시급해 보인다.

In the survey mentioned above, only 51.3% of all respondents said that there was a special organization or officer for dealing with sexual harassment in their university.  Through this, as well, we can infer the fact that sexual harassment between students in university culture is not well-recognized.  Relevant measures appear to be urgently needed.

Writer: Park Hee-jeong (박희정), 3 March 2011.


A disclaimer: I’ve never attended MT or even talked about it with students, so, students’ normal proclivities aside, I’m sure many or even most events are perfectly fine, and indeed Joe SeoulMan – ironically the source of one of the above images – has an account of a very nice, almost heartwarming one here. On the other hand, Extra! Korea argues that “it’s well-known among Koreans that sexual harassment is widespread at MTs”, and there’s certainly enough news stories in the Korean media to back that up.

What do you think? Have any readers attended MT themselves? Would you say that sexual harassment is indeed widespread at them, or is that just an impression created by the Korean media and *cough* bloggers, who tend to focus on the negatives?

(Thanks again to Marilyn for the translation)


9 thoughts on “Seniors Routinely Sexually Harass Juniors during “Membership Training”?

  1. Maybe OT is oba MT.

    My only two experiences with MT were both grad student programs, with a lot of overseas-born folks, so it might not have been typical. Yes, there was a lot of drinking, and it did seem like some people were trying to hook up with others, but other than forcing people to sing songs and drink a tad more than they wanted, there was no attempt to humiliate anyone, especially in a sexual way.

    But that was grad school, with lots of “foreigners,” so who knows what goes on with all-KoKo undergrads. My guess is that there are a lot of cases where things get out of hand, definitely to the point of sexual harassment and possibly to the point of some kind of sexual assault, but I don’t know how much that is the “norm” either.

    At any rate, time to develop a new normal.


  2. At my uni I go to MT each year.. well.. for the start of it anyway.. we leave the students to play amongst themselves at a certain point.

    Our MT’s are very civilized compared to what this story is implying. When, in my writing classes, I ask students to tell me what stinks about the Uni, they talk about sexual harrassment in other contexts, but not once have I heard a complaint about it happening at MT. It seems unlikely to me, based on what I have seen/heard and the anonymity of the “complaint” assignments I give, that this is a major problem here.

    It may be related that our students generally do NOT force others to drink if they are unwilling. Students drink cider if they don’t want soju. This is likely a YMMV thing as our students are quite sophisticated (about half of them with substantial time overseas) and goal oriented.

    Last MT only one (1!) campus couple was created at MT, and in a different division one guy managed to crack his ankle while dancing…

    I really like the MT, because it is my chance to meet the freshmen informally.

    Also, pretty much only freshmen go, so some of the junior/senior tension may be reduced.

    I’d chalk this article up to a slow news day. ^^


  3. I could easily see people abusing power in such a setting, so it doesn’t surprise me, but in my one experience with an almost all korean MT I didn’t see anything like this. Though to be fair mine was with a school club, not a major group, and the club had a good balance of male/female seniors – which probably helps. They took advantage of the freshmen – but just simple things like making them clean up after drinking and scaring the daylights out of them on a night hike, I would consider it friendly hazing.


  4. Some people seem to be pooh-poohing the notion that sexual harassment takes place at MTs, citing their personal experiences as evidence. Well, I’ve never been murdered, so I guess that means that homicide doesn’t exist. Let’s not forget that Koreans are unlikely to do this in front of foreigners.

    Let’s look at what a newspaper article said.

    Freshmen at Sejong have University complained that they had to participate in an inappropriate game during a department’s welcoming party last February.

    According to students who attended, some games went too far to the extent they felt humiliated. One game had them compete in making the most sexual pose they could come up with, while others also included sexual pranks.


    1. LOL..

      the stupid is thick in this comment..

      the article you quote is based on people’s personal experiences. Like, you know, the comments.
      Do you understand that?
      Or you just keen on the experiences you like?

      Kushibo suggests a new norm, I say YMMV (look it up) and you quote an article that names no names and has no specifics..

      logic fail…


      1. I think this persons comment omitted some words by accident because the comment on their first sentence doesn’t make sense.


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