Universities in South Korea toughening rules against sexual harassment amid scandals

Universities in South Korea toughening rules against sexual harassment amid scandals

SEOUL - Universities in South Korea are moving to toughen their rules against sexual abuse in the wake of a series of sexual harassment scandals involving faculty members.

The uproar peaked last week when a math professor surnamed Kang at Seoul National University (SNU), one of Korea's most prestigious universities, was arrested for groping several of his students.

In another scandal, Chung-Ang University was revealed to have let a professor suspected of molesting female students multiple times continue teaching, because "it was hard to find a replacement for him."

Other universities have come under fire after accepting the resignations of some of their faculty members who were suspected of sexual harassment without properly investigating them and holding them responsible for their wrongdoings.

The string of cases of sexual violence has laid bare the vulnerability of pupils in the strict hierarchical system of academia. Some students claim that they could not resist abuses since professors have the authority to determine grades and whether or not to accredit dissertations.

"The relationship itself makes it hard for the student to confront the teacher, since whether he or she graduates is entirely up to their supervising professor," Lee Soo-jung, a criminal psychology professor at Kyonggi University, said in a radio interview.

"Abusers continue to take advantage of their victims, knowing they cannot resist. The perpetrators fail to recognise the gravity of their crimes in many cases, to the extent of regarding it as sort of a game."

Amid the outcry and mounting calls for tougher measures to stamp out sexual violence, university administrations are taking steps to reassure the public.

SNU swiftly issued a public apology over its scandal and vowed to "thoroughly investigate the case while looking for any other cases of abuse." It also pledged to enhance ethics training for its staff.

Kyung Hee University is reportedly seeking to revise its school regulations to ban those who have committed sexual crimes from dropping out of the school, resigning or taking a leave of absence before the case is thoroughly investigated.

The revision was suggested by Kyung Hee's student council on abolishing sexual discrimination, and officials are looking to implement it by next year.

Officials are hoping the move will demonstrate their resolve to deal sternly with sex crimes. Students and experts alike have pointed to a lack of punishment as a major factor behind reoccurring cases.

"Even if a sex crime victim does pluck up the courage to report the case, the schools' investigation becomes stuck when the accused submits his resignation," said a member of the council. Students usually report such cases to the school authorities rather than to police, partly because they are afraid of receiving disadvantages from other professors or the school.

A recent survey by a presidential committee dedicated to reflecting young people's needs found that 65.3 percent of student victims in sex abuse cases did not take any action, mainly because they were afraid of repercussions of their actions.

One of the reasons students refrain from taking action is because many universities mandate them to submit their name, phone number and details of the abuse when they file a report. According to a school official at a Seoul-based university, this is to prohibit students from anonymously submitting false reports to penalize those they hold a grudge against.

Abuse victims, however, have said this stops most students from reporting abuse.

"The procedure says students have to use their real names in order to have school officials conduct in-depth investigation. This concept is just beyond my comprehension," said a member of an emergency committee formed by alleged victims of the SNU's professor Kang.

In other remedial measures, Ewha Womans University has decided to give extra career points to professors who receive education on sex crime prevention during their faculty evaluations from next year. Korea University says it will regard sex crimes as human rights violation and toughen related rules against those crimes.

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