A piece of news drifted through my Twitter and RSS feeds, catching my eye this morning. Matt’s post at Gusts of Popular Feeling and the Yonhap’s article were the ones responsible for bringing it to my attention.
The Yonhap article sums it pretty succinctly, but if you’re too lazy to actually click it, I’ll give you the recap: American in his 50’s who taught English had fled to the US after being suspected of molestation, but the States just extradited him back to Korea.
The individual in question had been working in my former city of Daegu. He hadn’t been doing the hagwon thing, but instead had been employed as an elementary teacher. The public school system (like EPIK) prides itself with its stringent security process with applications, and takes great pains to distance itself from the shady hagwon hiring practises. Looks like they let this one through.
Incidents like this help cement a certain image segments of the media produce of the native English teaching population.
The result of this case for foreign teachers was an assurance by the Daegu office of education that the "native speaking teacher training course will involve an enhanced sex crime prevention program,"
That sounds awfully familiar. I hate recalling the same entries over and over again, but the Daegu office of education had set up these little sessions for hagwon teachers in 2009. I attended one, and was privy to the logistics of it, which sent me off in a tizzy at the time.
Despite all these “precautions” there’s one thing people need to keep in mind. One simple thing. It’s not pretty, but it’s the truth.
Sexual abuses just aren’t taken seriously in present day Korean society.
I’ve written about this in depth over the years, and the evidence is all over the place. As was noted by a linked article in The Marmot’s Hole, and Gusts of Popular Feeling, the school itself tried to hush the entire thing up.
This is the reality of the situation here. People are all too keen to look the other way and ignore when these assaults take place. When the perps are caught, excuses are used to get off on a greatly reduced sentence (“Oh, I was drunk at the time!”. If a man was drunk at the time, he’s not responsible for his actions).
You don’t need to look at the news to see how far this goes. Art has reflected life for a long time. The film Poetry outlines what families do when incidents like this affects their lives. The film Silenced shows what happens when the judiciary process fails to correct never-ending strings of cover-ups.
Silenced was based on an actual case from Gwang-ju. It’s hard to walk away from that film and not ask yourself a question. If a society were truly keen in ending the sexual abuse of minors, would such a mishandling of justice actually take place? Maybe once, but not again, and again, and again. Daegu had a string of sexual abuses at an elementary school, but things were hushed up. An eight year old was raped in Ansan, left for dead with her internal organs severely damaged, and the perp got a slap on the wrist (and then there was this).
When the Nayeong case, in Ansan, hit the media in 2008, I discussed it with my middle school students at the time. One of my students was the president of his school’s student body. He told me sex abuses between students didn’t draw punishments from his school, because it would adversely affect the perpetrator’s future (a point that should sound familiar if you’ve watched Poetry).
Why the Daegu elementary school chose to hush up the incident with the American teacher speaks volumes. It was more important to limit damage to the school’s reputation. If tackling sexual abuses were a priority, as it damn well should be, efforts to save face would have taken a back seat. A very distant back seat.
Politicians will talk big. They’ll promise to make it even more difficult for foreign native teachers to get an E-2 visa. But none of this will actually prevent future assaults from taking place. Korea just makes it too easy for sexual predators to thrive here. Officials are so caught up in maintaining appearances, the superficiality of their actions doesn’t allow them to do anything effectively. Or, they simply don’t care enough to do anything effectively.
Since I first came to Korea, I knew sex crimes weren’t taken seriously. Other matters were always more important. You’d think the exploitation of kids and teens online would be easy enough to tackle, but apparently this escapes the notice of the cyber police divisions. They’re quick to shut down satirical tweeters who retweet North Korean postings, but they obviously turn a blind eye towards incidents where real harm happens.
Go into any image search service, and you’ll see endless amounts of exposed teens. Some of them had their cellphones hacked, and their (nude) self-shots posted online on a variety of sites. Others had their Cyworld’s broken into. And still others were taken from older men having sex with them.
How far down does the rabbit hole go? Further than any decent cyber police force should ever let it go. Search 교복 (school uniform) and you get students in compromising positions. Search 고딩 (slang for highschool student) and you get stuff that wouldn’t even be legal in most countries. Surely there shouldn’t be stuff for middle and elementary students, right? Wrong. Just add the appropriate prefix. Adding other syllables work as well, such as 여 (girl), 생 ( second syllable in “student”) and 녀 (girl).
[Warning: Images that return in the results are NSFW…and Not Safe For Life, really]
The sad part of all this, is that none of it is hidden. You can practically stumble on it without having any intention of doing so. If it’s that easy to get to, why isn’t action being taken to delete it?
Because, as I said, such transgressions just aren’t taken seriously. They aren’t a priority. The government here will spy on its own citizens if it fears dissent. They will remove protestors away from the homes of former military dictators responsible for the massacre of citizens. But hey, crimes against society’s most vulnerable segment? Not worthy of their attention.
This isn’t to shift attention off foreign teachers who get caught molesting their students. Folks who destroy the lives of children because they can’t get off with people their own age don’t deserve any mercy. But rather than having endless discussions about how unsafe a workforce we are to be around, I would like to see officials stop skating around the real issues at play.
Sexual abuse is a crime. Enabling sexual abuse is a crime. Hushing it up doesn’t solve anything, and it allows the predators to go unpunished. The US did the right thing by extraditing its citizen to Korea. I would appreciate it if all other cases were handled with similar gravitas.