[Letter to the editor]Domestic violence is a crime, a problem the whole society must stamp outWhen I first came to South Korea in the late 1980s, most households maintained a strict patriarchal structure.
Few women worked after marriage and most strived to meet the society standard of loyal wife, hardworking mother and dutiful daughter. The incidence of domestic violence was high and most women suffered in silence.
Today, economics and attitudes have changed radically but the level of domestic violence remains high: 40 percent to 60 percent of women become victims of domestic violence. Most disturbingly, such statistics can only be interpreted as society’s tacit acquiescence to the practice.
The newsagent near my bus stop is a battered woman. Whereas I wear sunglasses to protect my eyes from the sun, she wears them to hide a particularly brutal beating.
Unlike the most recent and public tragic abuse of a famous actress, the newsagent hides her shame and suffers in silence. But domestic violence should no longer be hidden; it is a crime like any other and perpetrators should be similarly prosecuted.
It is still common in domestic violence disputes to blame the woman. “What has she done wrong?” is a favorite misguided question posed by authorities.
“Even other women believe the victims must have been undutiful wives,” one woman told me. “Women who work are often accused of being too busy pursuing their careers,” said another. Does that mean they deserve to be beaten? That view of women is patronizing and inaccurate.
Years ago, victims had little support to turn to. But today domestic violence is getting more attention from private and governmental groups. There is a large support system of domestic violence hotlines, shelters and counselling/prevention centers that reach out to help the victims rebuild their lives.
And recently the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family revised the domestic violence law which provides benefits to victims and their children. But will the new law be strictly implemented? Will the benefits reach the victims who need them?
“Korean men do not regard their women with the same esteem as they themselves expect,” a businesswoman told me. The image of the “dutiful wife” is still deeply ingrained in the male psyche, helping to perpetuate the practice of domestic violence.
“Is it so hard to look up to women once in a while and acknowledge their aspirations and contributions?” an acquaintance asked me.
Indeed, it is very hard if you are still living in an era in which people believe that “The sky is high, the ground is low; yang is strong, yin is weak. Lowness and weakness are women’s destiny. If a woman wants to be strong on her own, she violates the law of justice.” (From Woman’s Four Books, 1736)
The continuing high level of domestic violence in South Korea reflects the failure of society to eradicate it.
Women no longer live in that cloistered world of the underclass where men ruled and the woman was always at fault.
The government has taken the first steps by amending the law, but this must be translated into real protection for the victims and punishment for the perpetrators.
Society must also correct its myopic view of the problem by educating the young about equal rights and demonstrate their commitment by eliminating all forms of gender discrimination.
Susan Oak, professor, English Program Office, Ewha Womans University