Victim Blaming: Why “she should have just moved” isn’t a solution to harassment on public transport

Crowded Korean Subway(Source)

First, please read “Man Tries to Take Advantage of Drunk Girl on Seoul Subway” at koreaBANG. Then, with permission, my friend’s response to it:

Line 2 [in Seoul] really disturbs me, I try to avoid it because I have too many weird experiences. I have also made interventions like the one in this video, to ask someone if they know another passenger or if they need help.

In one of the comments, 니애미종범 basically writes “she should have moved” which seems like a simple thing, but I can speak from my own personal experience. On three different occasions a stranger has sat uncomfortably close to me and I moved, and they FOLLOWED me. Two of those times I moved again and they left me alone. I was lucky that there were other passengers around because I just said to them to (politely) leave me alone. But in one of those cases, the guy CONTINUED to sit next to me and talk about my appearance, ask me questions, even though I kept politely declining conversation and then said directly that I do not like to talk to someone I do not know. At that point, I decided to get off the train with a larger group of people… I pretended to go toward the stairs but when out of view I dashed onto another car and walked through the train 3 more cars… I called my boyfriend and asked him to hurry and meet me at the station and described the guy to him and told him I needed him to meet me… I debated whether to try to call the police and how to describe the situation or ask if there was a security box at the station where I would exit… All this time, I thought I had been out of sight… but then he appeared at my side AGAIN… he had seen me and followed me further. At that point, there were no people standing to get off the train and I was really afraid to get off onto an empty train platform again, so I stood up in the middle of the car and just walked around and made light conversation with random people so that people would notice me… and he finally stopped, but when I exited the train I was looking behind my back.

This is besides the frequent (monthly?) ‘accidental’ butt groping on a crowded bus or subway that does not seem so ‘accidental.’ I have taken to wearing my backpack even though it would be more ‘convenient’ to other passengers if I stored it on the top shelf, because wearing my backpack creates a buffer between me and other people and creates a little bit of space so that it is not so easy to discreetly grope and pretend it is ‘by accident.’ Even so, I still have to often tell someone not to touch me.

There are also a number of posts that criticize the person who intervened. I think it is important to be supportive to other people in our community. I try hard to avoid sending a friend home alone, or drunk, but sometimes you can’t control that. So, I take photos of taxis or other things. If my friend has been drinking, I tell the taxi driver directly where she/he is supposed to go, that someone is waiting, and photograph the name plate in the front seat of their taxi that says their name and taxi ID, etc. as well as the plate #. I ask about how long it will take and how much it will be and verbally confirm to the passenger so taxi driver avoids arguing the bill, etc. I do this because I think it “discourages” the idea that my friend is vulnerable, but it isn’t enough because there are still predatory people, complex situations and laws, and we need to support each other in navigating these scenarios.


While she’d like to remain anonymous, she adds for the sake of context that she is a (Caucasian) foreigner, with intermediate Korean skills. Also, another issue is the perception that police will not help and that self-defense might be dangerous to legal liability and visa status, which unfortunately happened with two of her friends that were assaulted

As a non-Seoulite, I was aware that Line 1 was dangerous, but had no idea about Line 2 (although to a certain extent, traveling on any line can be an unpleasant experience for non-Koreans and non-Caucasians). But as my friend tells me, apparently it’s a magnet for sexual harassers because “it connects a number of universities with stops like Gangnam, Sillim, Sadang and others that are very crowded.”

What are readers’ own experiences? How do you recommend dealing with harassers on the subway?

Related Posts:

Tokyo Time-Lapse: Japan as Metaphor?

Apropos of nothing more than my mellow mood this Sunday, two time-lapse videos of Tokyo by photographer Samuel Cockedey for you to enjoy.

And see Pink Tentacle for his latest entitled Floating Point, and the video and/or landscape links there for many more like them.

But it’s both curious and a pity though, that there are so many high quality landscape time-lapse videos of Tokyo out there, whereas I can’t find a single comparable one of Seoul. Why do you think that is? After all, clearly Seoul is equally germane:

( Source: unknown )

To help you ponder the attraction of Tokyo at least, here’s some quick thoughts from an old Wired article entitled “Is Japan Still The Future?“. Written in 2001, it seems just as – even more – relevant today:

…Even in the splatter of America’s own burst bubble, Japan’s bottomless reservoir of bad news seems too dark a model for all but the most dyspeptic futurist.

But there is another Japan: Japan-as-metaphor. This is the Japan that represents hypermodernism in all its dimensions, from advanced technology to individual alienation to urbanization run amok. This stylized notion took root in the ’80s amid the country’s economic boom. It was a time when Japanese business models, money, and products seemed like irresistible forces. Neuromancer launched cyberpunk onto the streets of a future Japan “where you couldn’t see the lights of Tokyo for the glare of the television sky, not even the towering hologram logo of the Fuji Electric Company.” William Gibson’s imagined Japan was not the shiny future-perfect of yesterday’s world fairs, but instead a hard-edged tomorrow where giant conglomerates ruled and silico-, nano-, and bio- were the main denominations of value. Gibson’s message was that disruptive technology would bring with it disruptive social change. And it read like prophecy.

And on a similar theme, check out “The Future Perfect” from TIME magazine also. Meanwhile, of course please do pass on any videos of Seoul if you’re aware of them, and if all that hasn’t already made you look at Korean urban life in a new light, then let me finish by passing on bhophoto’s Korean photos which will do precisely that!


Gay Pride Festival and Parade in Seoul This Saturday

Korean Queer Parade 2009 SeoulUpdate: I may discuss it in more detail in a later post, but in the meantime a big thanks to Chris in South Korea for this post about attending the event.

A little confused by the first ever “Stonewall Celebrations” being held in other Korean cities at the same time (see #5 here), I didn’t realize that the 10th Korea Queer Culture Festival has also been taking place in Seoul sorry, and is actually almost over. I can tell you before it’s too late though, that there will be a festival and parade this Saturday: for further details, see this English page of the festival website, or alternatively contact one of the posters in this thread at Dave’s ESL Cafe (or ask me to PM them if you’re not a member already).

Being unemployed and with two kids to support then I can’t make the trip to Seoul myself unfortunately, but I’d appreciate it if anyone can send me links to blog posts and pictures and so on afterwards.

(Poster from here, which also has a Korean timetable of events)