Recurring sex crimes plague S Korea's universities

Recurring sex crimes plague S Korea's universities

Last month, a disconcerting campaign was launched at one of the nation's most prestigious universities here.

A group of students at Seoul National University gathered and arranged a joint movement demanding that the school conduct thorough investigations of on-campus sexual harassment and better protect the victims, rather than the assaulters.

The campaign was sparked after the school was accused of having a lukewarm attitude in dealing with a high-profile sexual harassment case involving renowned science professor Kang Seok-jin last year.

Kang, who is currently arrested, now faces charges of repeatedly sexually assaulting eight female students since 2008 and another woman during an event last July.

The case rattled local academic circles, and the university was slammed for its lackluster measures.

Soon after the scandal hit, the school accepted Kang's resignation, only to rescind it later upon protests from students that a resignation would exempt Kang from an internal investigation as he would no longer be among the university's faculty.

"In sexual violence cases in universities, I don't think the attackers are properly punished. It is frustrating to see the organisation actually defending the perpetrators," said Kim Ha-kyung, a member of SNU's feminist student society Dal, which participated in the movement.

The students argue that being subject to a sex crime on campus aggravates what is already a stressful experience due to education authorities' nearly nonexistent protective measures.

"There are no tangible measures to protect the victims (of sex crimes), nor are there any means to force punishment on the perpetrators," said Kim.

In incidents of on-campus sexual harassment, a student generally submits the case to the relevant school authorities ― such as SNU's human rights centre ― and school authorities investigate the case to determine the validity of the accusation to be handed over to the police.

In most cases, the case wraps up with the school penalizing the teacher unless the victim decides to go ahead and file a charge with the police separately.

What is further hindering the victims is the fear that Korea's conservative male-dominant society will slap a scarlet letter on them for even being involved in such a case.

"I went drinking with a professor and we went to a karaoke bar. He sat beside me and told me to sing a song, while he casually put a hand on my thigh. From then on, he kept touching my thigh or my waist," said an anonymous student victim. Despite her discomfort, she was afraid to tell anyone about it because she was "scared of attracting attention."

"I didn't care about strangers talking behind my back, but sometimes people with the best intentions can hurt me with kind words."

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