South Korean Women Confront Taboo of Rape

One woman is breaking the silence and helping others to do the same.

ENGLISH | CERITA

Sabtu, 01 Feb 2014 16:41 WIB

Author

Jason Strother

South Korean Women Confront Taboo of Rape

South Korea, rape, victims, crimes against women, Jason Strother

Kim Youn-jung runs her clothing design business out of her apartment in Seoul. 

The 27-year old is very open about the time in 2012 when a man, who she thought was a friend, raped her.
 
She says at first she felt ashamed.
 
“I personally blamed myself a lot for it, I know I shouldn’t have but I did. Korean education fails to teach women how to react to these situations”
 
Kim says her family, the police and even a female lawyer tried to talk her out of pressing charges against the man.

She felt isolated.

When she turned to some of her female friends for support, she realised she wasn’t alone.
 
“These girls I have known for years weren’t comfortable to come forward until they heard what I went through.”

According to the World Health Organization, one third of women worldwide experience physical or sexual abuse. 

And in South Korea, police reports reveal that the number of sexual assault cases has been on the rise for the past five years.

Women activists say the Korean legal and justice system favors men too strongly.
 
Chang Pil-wha is Director of the Asian Center for Women's Studies at Seoul's Ewha Woman’s University.
 
“The culture is very lenient of male mistakes. It’s the strength of tradition of deep down patriarchal culture.”
 
Officials at South Korea’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family say they recognize the problem.

But there are no easy solutions, says Lim Jong-pil from the Women’s and Youth Rights Division.

“We are trying to solve this problem, by educating the authorities to respect women's rights, but in reality, it's hard to change attitudes and control every police officer.”
 
Lim says the growing number of sexual assault cases in South Korea actually reflects the changing attitudes toward rape.
 
“Women are becoming more aware of their rights.  In the past they wouldn’t go to the police, but now they feel more open about admitting they were victimized.”
 
Some advocates here agree that women are now more confident about coming forward. 

But they say the statistics only show a tenth of the actual number of women who are sexually assaulted.
 
Lee Mi-kyoung co-founded the Korean Sexual Violence Relief Center. 

She says many victimized women continue to stay silent because they don’t want to be humiliated again.
 
“They are first victimized by the rapist, but then they feel victimized a second time by the people around them, classmates, family and the police who make them feel more ashamed by saying things like "Didn't you cause them to rape you?"
 
Lee says women can overcome this shame by speaking up about their assault.  

Breaking that silence is exactly what Kim Youn-jung is doing.

In September 2013, she launched the Disruptive Womyn’s talks, a group for victimized women to share their experiences and help each other heal.
 
Kim received assistance from her friend and business partner, Vanessa Burke, who had experience in rape counseling back in the US.

“I felt inspired and happy to be around these individuals to have the opportunity to provide a safe space where these women could come and share and release that weight for a bit.”
 
Burke stresses that these women are not, and should not be seen as victims.

“Victim is a way of stating that you accept what happened to you and you don’t really fight back.  After a trauma and being victimized the ability to socialize and keep working, keep going is indicating you are surviving, you are fighting against what happened to you, you are speaking forward, you are moving forward.”
 
Kim and Burke’s forum has continued to meet once a month.  Kim says she thinks the participants are getting a lot out of the talks.

“We can’t expect people to change things for us, it’s up to us to try at least, to attempt to try, to take risks, cause without taking risks, life is just going to be the same.”
 
Kim says she’s not sure if Disruptive Women can change an entire society’s views on sexual violence, but it’s a start.

“It makes me happy to have made one person’s life a little better that they can sleep a little better at night.  That they can talk about and feel validated, because I needed that when I was going through my case.”
 

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