Sexual Harassment in South Korea

Sexual Harassment in South Korea

Sexual assault is one of the biggest, recent issues in South Korean society; causing women to stand up for their sex and demand to have their voice heard. The findings showed that statistically, the percentage of sexual harassment crimes were an alarming rate of 98% of the assaulters being men and of the victims, 86% were shown to be women. Sexual harassment crimes rate for reported sexual crimes stand at an astonishing rate of 3.4 reported cases every hour. These issues are of a matter of great importance and stands as a gender power imbalance we must fix within South Korea.

One of the places where sexual assault is the most prominent can be found in the workplace. In a current state of society were competition for employment is fierce and work conditions are near unbearable, women are victim to hardships in addition to what they already face. The constant danger of harassment constantly looming in the work environment in which they must survive. A survey conducted among working women showed that eight out of ten women reported being sexually assaulted or harassed at and outside of work by a coworker. The questionable aspect of this problem is that a staggering 78% of the women kept their attacks a secret and only 22% took action against their assailant.

​Before you ask yourself why these women don’t speak-out, you must first understand the culture background of their society. Korean history is deeply imbedded within Confucianism, where hierarchy dominates over everything. This mindset encourages a male dominated environment and restrains women from speaking out, and telling the truth.

A prominent example which can be applied is in regards to an article published in 2014 about a young girl named Soo-Jin. Soo-Jin had worked hard all throughout college to get her dream job at Hanssem, a furniture making company. On the first day on the job after she was finally employed, her co-workers invited her out for drinks to celebrate her employment. After a round of drinks, Soo-Jin found herself inebriated to a point of drunkenness. And it was at this point that one of her supervisors invited her for another round with him, alone. Out of courtesy and Confucianism-driven respect for her superior, Soo-Jin, of course, felt obligated and found herself being led to a motel room. In the said motel room, her superior took advantage of her drunken stupor and forced himself on her, raping her twice for a total sum of four hours against her will.

After the ordeal, Soo-Jin needed some time to work up the courage to tell her company about what happened the night with her superior. She was sent to the HR department where they gave her two options, she could either drop the charges and be let off with a warning or be fired from the company. Of the two options, Soo-Jin was forced to select one of the unreasonable two and ended up dropping the charges but was unfairly penalized for falsely reporting a fellow employee and had her pay cut by 10% for six months. This is just one case of few that have actually been reported. Women everywhere in South Korea have similar stories, not limited to just in the workplace but in all aspects of everyday life. A recent movement such as #MeToo, has empowered women everywhere to collectively stand up for themselves and break out against the Confucianism ideals which have forced them to keep silent.

In 2018, the EEO Act (EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY AND WORK-FAMILY) has been revised to help anyone who has been sexually harassed or assaulted within the workplace by enforcing sexual harassment training, protection for victims and witnesses, obligation to investigate confidentiality, and further obligations on employment; these policies help women not only when it comes to coping with this trauma but show women that they are not alone in the fight. This is merely just the start if we are to truly become an equal society and stop sexual harassment and gender power imbalance in South Korea borne form historic cultural ideals.