Since January, after the staggering cascade of sexual-misconduct allegations waged against the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office of South Korea, a myriad of people flooded social media feeds with their own stories. From Hollywood moguls to prominent politicians, #MeToo has mostly centered on the workplace. The school, however, has come to be no exception. Amid growing awareness about these problems, more students came forward with their stories of assault than they had in the past.
The present moment illustrates what many schools have known, and has been under the surface, for years. As #MeToo has been reverberating on college campuses across the country recently, The Argus closely examined what the problems are, and suggested what needs to be done to eradicate sexual abuse practices for good.
Problem 1 Sexual harassment complaints that had not previous surfaced
Some university faculties are condemned for sexual harassment. Cheongju University announced on January 5 that Professor J, Division of Theater, Film, and Music, had received a disciplinary measure for sexual molestation that had turned out to be true after an investigation. The Dept. of Theatre and Visual Arts of Myongji College expelled five professors for sexual misconduct. Some female undergraduates from the College of Liberal Arts of Yonsei University, Dept. of Orchestral Instruments and Dept. of Sculpture of Ewha Womans University reported that they have experienced various forms of sexual violence or misconduct from the professors while in college.
One of the most recent offenders was a professor at HUFS who resigned after allegations that he had sexually offended graduate students. A week before his resignation, confessions from alumni of another department sparked a debate on HUFS Bamboo Forest (Facebook) about Professor L’s unwelcome conduct.
Problem 2 People who remained on the sidelines
Onlookers are also part of the problem in this matter. Higher-education institutions have for years been aware that such harassment occurs at high rates on their campuses, but they have not done anything to make it right. It took so long for alleged victims to share their stories because there was no one who listened to them.
“I did not tell anyone because I just thought this was something that I could not personally deal with. People around me knew about what happened, but they did not put in any effort to fix the problems. Neither did I,” said a student who just gave her surname Kim, affirming that she already knew firsthand about sexual assault from some of the professors.
Students themselves often had divergent perceptions of certain behaviors, too. Student A from the Dept. of Arabic Interpretation and Translation said, “I did not consider the encounter serious enough to report until #MeToo became an issue of public concern. I know now that there were more students in my situation, but they had the courage to make a difference.”
Problem 3 Reckless offense against the people directly involved
An unpleasant side effect that comes with #MeToo is happening every time another woman speaks up about their innermost pain. It is backlash against the alleged victims from the audience. Some people judge and question the victims’ motives behind anonymity.
Some blame victims by criticizing the way they might have dressed or how they might have behaved when they were with the opposite sexes. They question why the victims are hiding behind anonymity if they are innocent and why they did not open up about what happened earlier.
Another problem is that some people relate the perpetrators’ sins with their family members. Family members are also shocked about their significant others’ wrongdoings. They cannot help but endure all the harsh criticism unrelated to the incident itself.
Unfortunately, there is an assumption that family members know everything about what happened. People cast doubt how could family members possibly not know about the offense, saying that the offenders’ daughters should have been victimized. Such comments have a severe impact on the lives of the offenders’ family members.
Reason 1 A society that did not take issue with sexual harassment
The society today lacks communication as a result as long-standing nature of the past that emphasized the value of ‘We’ than ‘I.’ According to the Korean dictionary, communication is defined as “No misunderstanding due to good mutual understanding.” In the past and in today’s hierarchical order and power structure, individuals are misunderstood and thus left unattended.
A lack of clear communication led to the difference in perception of sex crimes, such as sexual harassment. People did not convey opinions well or catch it clearly.
The problem was the social atmosphere, in which sexual harassment was not clearly recognized as a crime of sexual violence. In reality, each person experiences a different range of sexual harassment and of unpleasantness. The movement became more widespread with an emphasis on becoming more ‘sensitive’ so that all humans are treated as equals regardless of location, age, or sex is important.
One case of sexual harassment can be due to a person’s lack of morality. In most of the cases in the movement, perpetrators are the strong and victims are the weak of society. These power- imbalanced relationships undermine free communication among people. Someone below cannot express their feelings, thus they end up sucking it up for the sake of someone above them and also of themselves.
Disinterest in the events of the third parties and the school’s neglect cannot be dismissed. Up until now, the schools have been slow in tracking down the progress of the incidents. It is uncertain whether the schools also attempted to prevent damage caused by the accidents, including separating victims from perpetrators.
Reason 2 Closed society of professors and intervention
It was almost impossible for professors to warn a fellow professor because it was considered a violation of the professor’s scope, considering the closed nature of the community.
Also, students could not speak their opinions confidently because their attitude toward professors is directly related to their interest. In particular, HUFS is a language-focused university and a professor’s evaluation can be involved in students’ graduation and future career.
Professor of “Women and Society” lecture, Park Hye-sook agreed, proving example of a Korean proverb “Students do not even step on the shadow of the teacher.” She said that it is hard for students to challenge or reject professors because of patriarchal Confucian ideology. She added that “There was a prevailing atmosphere in which the school tried to cover up individual professors’ private behavior because universities are also managed based on a male-oriented structure.”
Reason 3 The press in pursuit of provocative stories
The press pursues provocative news to draw public attention. This movement is no exception. For the public’s temporary attention, they release articles on ‘suspicion’ in a pungent way. However, there are not as much articles that clear up the suspicions.
Furthermore, the press frames people in a way that unnecessarily stress the accusations made by the public. It also includes unrelated information about perpetrators. The frame often leads to a biased response instead of fair reporting.
Solution 1 A situational system regarding gender issues
Gender education has to be strengthened into a practical way to keep up with the time. An example would be a situational manual with instructions for students and school personnel.
On March last year, a victim of sexual violence posted a large post at the Living Autonomy Library to make the case public. In the same month, the sexual harassment finally floated above the surface due to the report of whistleblowers from a KakaoTalk group chatting room of the College of English. However, students who were nominated as perpetrator in the post safely finished the last semester without any other punishments despite continuous incidents of sex violence. The victims started sought after help from outside organizations because of repeatedly postponed school punishments.
Professor of “Women and Society” lecture, Hwang In-ja said, “Sexual harassment has been just punished by fines without criminal charges, so students have to keep social distance about their body and there is a need for reinforcement in gender education.”
Solution 2 A cyber complaint place guaranteeing anonymity
As time passes, students gradually become detached from the issues, especially because there are no formal anonymous places regarding gender. There is also no student-focused organization focused on gender issues.
Living Autonomy Library under the Student Union and Facebook page “Bamboo Forest” can be considered to be the most well organized “places of discussion” for this. However, only a few students participate in the campaign or discussion from Living Autonomy Library, and it is far away from garnering the participation of all students. The big post on Living Autonomy Library students’ attention dispersed and had a limitation in that the whole student body did not intervene.
There is a need to make an anonymous cyber environment where students can express opinions formally. If there was a student-focused organization for school problems, it could continuously keep watch on important issues among students.
Professor Park Hye-sook said, “A student-focused discussion place of accusation would better provide a counseling service under anonymity or add a function for blocking false reports.”
Solution 3 Filtering function for neutrality of press
Undoubtedly, there is a duty for the press to pursue stories with neutrality. The press has to act as a monitoring organization of society. However, the press seems to go against the value of neutrality for public’s attention. Therefore, there should be another organization for monitoring the press to check whether the reporting is neutral or not.
“Take a moment to think about if I did something wrong to someone,” said Lee Soon-jae, one of the prominent actors in South Korea. Just as he said that, more and more people have come into sight to reveal the inconvenient truth, #MeToo is now giving people some space and time to reflect on themselves.
All members of society had better deal with #MeToo after they have given it much thought. They should not move, because we, as society members, are all part of the reason why victims cannot help but put #MeToo aside. The time has come to change; it is better late than never.
By Moon Chae-un and Seo Eun-sol
Reporters of Campus Section