One of the most-followed sex crimes this year involves former Blue House spokesperson Yoon Chang-jung, who became the target of an American police investigation over his alleged sexual assault of a Korean-American intern during President Park Geun-hye’s trip to the United States in May.
A TV show gauged the Korean public’s sentiments toward the matter and while some put the blame on Yoon, some were of the opinion that it “wasn’t a big deal,” while a few others were quick to point out that, “if it happened here, it wouldn’t have caused such a fuss.”
Yoon, for his part, blamed the “misunderstanding” on “cultural differences,” which resulted in protest from the public, many wondering just what “culture” Yoon was referring to, and raised further questions about the culture of looking at women in Korea.
But Yoon is not the only one with misunderstandings.
According to findings by the Supreme Court, the number of sexual crimes committed by teenagers against their peers has jumped elevenfold in the past decade, suggesting that something needs to happen in the classrooms.
Although it’s unlikely to know the exact number, according to government statistics, there were 22,034 sexual abuse cases reported last year.
While promising in that more people are alerting authorities, the rising number is a concern.
According to Jung Ha Kyung-ju, a spokesperson for Korean Womenlink, an organization that helps victims of sexual abuse, those numbers are just a glimpse.
“We think only about 7 percent of sex crimes get reported and, within that percentage, victims who stick it out in court until the guilty charge is dealt is 0.3 percent,” she said, adding that the organization believes that education is the key to overcoming prejudices and equipping young people who will pave the way for change.No standardized guidelines
While the government asks schools to spend 17 hours a year on mandatory sex education, there is no standardized syllabus, nor practical guidelines or proper monitoring.
Unlike schools in the West that incorporate sex education into the curriculum, Korean students aren’t given adequate lessons on sex, with the 17 hours being divided into intermittent one-hour slots, with the whole grade level crammed into the school’s gymnasium to watch a video on sexual harassment.
“There is a sort of don’t-tell-and-don’t-ask attitude toward sex education,” said Joon Kim, a high school student who said he can’t remember what was covered during the mandatory sex education that took place a few times a year at his all-boys middle school.
“I don’t think I learned anything that would come in handy … but from having been to school in the U.S., I know that we should find a trustworthy adult,” said the teen on a hypothetical situation in which a friend would be sexually assaulted.
School nurse Doo Jin-ok, 59, who has spent a quarter-century at a middle school for girls in southern Seoul, is responsible for the welfare of about 600 pupils.
In line with the 17-hour mandatory requirements, she makes up the curriculum because “apart from a brief disclaimer,” the government offers nothing else.
“We ask sex education specialists to come in a few times a year to talk to the students,” said Doo, who finds it hard enough to use up all of the hours on her own. Often, she’ll recruit the help of other teachers to incorporate sex education into classes like physical education and ethics.
And as she admits to being “a bit conservative,” she said she will only go so far as to alert girls that ask, of a few contraceptive methods, “but not something like putting on a condom.”
Each school nurse is responsible for their school, and while they have regular meetings and “visit other schools to see what they’re doing,” there is no national standard to ensure that all kids receive adequate information.
Doo said that as her kids are “pretty well-behaved,” there is no need to give out more information than logging on to audio-visual Web sites.
“I guess at co-ed schools, the kids are more progressive, but here in the time that I’ve taught, I haven’t had anyone report sexual abuse,” said Doo.
Although Doo thinks sex education has come a long way since the “days when it consisted just of your menstrual cycle,” she does believe that one must be careful with the subject matter.
“It can be dangerous opening their eyes up to such things. In Switzerland they found that kids were worse off after given sex talks,” said Doo.
“Schools often think that if you teach kids about sex that they’re going to be trying it out and that it corrupts them,” said Jung Ha, who believes the negative attitude toward sex is actually damaging the kids.
She believes a healthy sexual awareness will lead to individuals who can relate to the opposite sex, and also be ready to handle any tricky situation.
As an organization that champions the fair treatment of women, she believes that knowledge does indeed equal power, even from a young age.
“We think kids should know the facts about sex. It’s about their bodies,” said Jung Ha, who thinks students of all ages need to be well aware about a component of their identity.
“The thing is, a lot of the victims already blame themselves, and that’s why so few incidents are reported,” said Jung Ha, who thinks that Korean society has a way of looking at sex crimes through the eyes of “those with power,” which in this instance is through the perpetrators, who are mostly male.
“We’ve even had victims who later confess that before it happened to them, they thought women who were raped were often partly to blame.
“Because most victims are women, people have this idea that it’s something that women do, or something that men can’t help.”
Meanwhile, the perpetrators also seem to share this skewed vision.
“They don’t believe that they raped anyone, but that it was consensual,” said Jung Ha, who said that the notion that men often have are that “women are coy, and don’t say what they mean” perpetuates this myth that sex victims are women who just “changed their mind” later on.
And to combat this notion, the organization has been active by campaigning, distributing flyers and speaking to students from elementary school to college, doing the job that the schools should be doing.
With booklets that are informative, fun to read, and deal with issues that are left alone in the classrooms ? and family rooms too, no doubt - Jung Ha said that, although not all at once, change is happening.
“We are getting more inquiries from parents too, who want to talk to their kids about sex, but because they were not given adequate information, they ask us.”
Lee Eun-young, a high school teacher at Doo’s school, said that even if a great curriculum was available, the parents wouldn’t be down with extending school hours to teach kids about sex.
“Especially in high school, everything is geared towards getting kids into college; a lot of parents wouldn’t want that,” said Lee.
And the government also has another solution for now: anklets to track sex offenders, and chemical castration for repeat offenders, not to mention a recent change in the law which means not just the victim, but third parties, can bring a case against rapists.
But Jung Ha emphasizes again that educating the public, not those who are serving their time, is really the best way to combat the “evil.”
“People often have this notion that sexual abuse is when someone drags a victim into the woods to rape them, but they don’t realize that it can come in the form of an inappropriate joke in the office,” said Jung Ha.
Gender equality is of course not the only solution to lowering sex crimes, but surely it plays a part, especially when the government is not doing all that much.
When asked what the government’s position was on appropriate sex education for modern times, a representative of the Violence Prevention Education Team at the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family said that the question was best “reserved for the experts.”
“You know the parents won’t like it if we cut into time slots of other core subjects,” said the ministry official.
As more youngsters are planted a healthy image of sex, it stands to reason that women will be able to spot sexual abuse in their lives and respond in a correct way.
But for better or for worse, it seems for now that it is the job of families, peers, and the individuals to educate youngsters on the taboo subject.
By Carla Sunwoo [email@example.com]