Gov’t feels pressure to crack down on bullying

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Gov’t feels pressure to crack down on bullying

Government agencies are coming up with measures to better manage violence among students in the wake of the tragic suicide of a middle school student in Daegu who killed himself last week because he couldn’t bear bullying from his classmates.

The government regularly tries to curb violence among students. In 2004, it enacted the School Violence Prevention Act. It has also hired counselors for some schools and set up call centers for victims of school violence. Despite such efforts, it is estimated that only about 10 percent of victims go to the police.

This year, a total of 19,660 students were taken into policy custody for using violence against other students as of November, down 16 percent from the same period last year. The number of cases reported by education authorities increased from 5,605 in 2009 to 7,823 last year.

“Not even 10 percent of the total victims make a report to the police,” said Kim Hyun-soo, a psychiatrist. Kim said parents of victims don’t generally trust the police to deal with such cases, and they fear retribution against their children from bullies if they report violence.

“What’s more important is how the cases are dealt with and how victims are protected from any retaliation,” said Choi Hee-young of the Foundation for Preventing Youth Violence. “The government said it will designate Wee Centers [help centers for students] as reporting centers for school violence. There needs to be a better reporting system that includes measures to protect the victims after they report what happened.”

Choi added that it is important to train counseling teachers who are placed in schools.

“Currently, when a student reports a case to the team on school violence within the school, the counselor proceeds with the investigation,” Choi said. “But that’s when most of these untrained counselors make mistakes. They should talk to the victims and bullies separately. But most of the counseling teachers call in both the victims and bullies together and ask questions.”

When the JoongAng Ilbo talked to experts including professors, psychologists and counselors on the issue, they said school violence was too accepted in Korea and that students, parents and teachers should be taught that such violence is a crime.

“Inculcating an awareness that violating others’ rights is wrong and that physical abuse is a serious crime is urgently needed,” said Lee Gyu-mi, a professor of counseling psychology at Ajou University. “It is a good idea for the government and social organizations to hold a nationwide campaign for that.”

Experts said that teachers should pay attention to their students and look for indications of physical abuse, such as bruises, and then get them counseling. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family announced Wednesday measures to prevent and control school violence.

According to the ministry, it will strengthen the counseling system for victims by deploying trained counselors, and expand the current number of counselors in the school system. It will also monitor and block online sites that could encourage suicides among students and operate round-the-clock telephone help lines.

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology also announced Monday that it will inspect all elementary, middle and high schools with city education offices twice a year in March and September to crack down on school violence.


By Yim Seung-hye, Kim Sung-tak [sharon@joongang.co.kr]
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