[Viewpoint] A collective lack of consciousnessCities in Korea are cold-blooded monsters. When a woman cries “I am sorry” in a dark residential area, neighbors just turn up their TV volume. While her rapist brutally killed her, only her family wandered around the alleys looking for her.
How is violence against women handled in the United States? I recently picked up the book “At Home in the Law” by Jeannie Suk, a Harvard Law School professor. However, it was a difficult read because American society which is only hours away by plane, seemed so foreign.
Let’s examine how a domestic violence case is handled in Manhattan, New York. When a couple fights, neighbors report it to the police. Police officers are quickly dispatched and the offender is arrested. When the offender is prosecuted, a court issues a restraining order. Then couples often begin a long-term separation.
The process is treated with a “no drop” policy. Even if the case is handled as a misdemeanor or the victim disagrees with the prosecution, the offender of the domestic violence case must undergo a trial. American society sees domestic violence as a serious, unacceptable crime. Professor Suk argues that excessive intervention of the state often creates a coercive environment prone for divorce.
As I read the book, I felt extremely uncomfortable because of the recent brutal rape and murder case in Suwon. What cost the victim her life was the perception that what she was going through at the time only “appeared to be a domestic dispute.”
The victim had at least three chances. First, a neighbor witnessed that the victim was forcibly dragged away by the offender on the night of the incident. The neighbor, however, did not report it to the police, because he thought it was “just another domestic dispute.”
The second chance for her came when the victim made a frantic call to report her situation by dialing 112. When her screams were heard through the phone, the call center officer said, “They seemed to know each other. It’s like a domestic dispute.”
Her third - and the final chance - was when the offender was assaulting the victim. Another neighbor made a belated report to the police the next morning. “I think I heard some noise from a domestic dispute,” the neighbor told the police.
It is a secondary issue that the police and the neighbors mistook the situation as a domestic dispute. Even if a woman was forcibly dragged away by a man, even if she screamed her lungs out, people thought that they could not meddle in a fight between a husband and a wife - the sugar-coated term for domestic violence. And that type of thinking aided and abetted the crime.
The police also gave a lame excuse that they thought the case was just a “simple sexual assault.” There is no reason to add the word “simple” in front of any sexual assault. A sexual assault is a serious crime amounting to the murder of a person’s dignity.
What if a woman faces danger of sexual assault in the United States? Professor Suk wrote, more and more states are changing their laws so that a woman - even if she uses a gun in the face of domestic violence or a sexual crime - does not have to prove that using a gun was her last resort of self-defense. Do Korean women - who do not have guns and are not properly protected by the police - need to learn self-defense martial arts?
The police are responsible for the terrible crime that took place in Suwon. But we must see clearly that Korean society’s collective lack of consciousness is guilty of aiding and abetting the brutal rape and murder of the victim and of jeopardizing the safety of many women.
It is foolish to ask which society is more normal between a society that debates over government intervention and a society that does not take domestic violence and sexual crimes seriously. Murders and psychopaths live in the United States and Europe, too, and they also have terrible domestic violence and sexual crimes.
But the issue here is that the legal system and the society’s awareness toward those crimes are different in Korea. In terms of protecting women, Korea - more precisely the 21st-century Korea - is standing light years behind other countries. Before it is too late, society must become aware that it needs to change its distorted stereotypical view of domestic violence and sexual crimes. That’s the only way to pay proper condolences to the victim.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kwon Suk-chun