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Sexual Violence in Korean Universities: Is It Possible to Eradicate It?

On October 5th, 2017, the New York Times shook the world with a story detailing decades of allegations of sexual violence against famous American film producer Harvey Weinstein. Ever since the first report, there have been more than 100 victims who have exposed Weinstein’s crimes, and a series of allegations of sexual violence are also being discovered in political circles in the United Kingdom (UK) and Austria. Sexual violence occurs not only at work, but also on campus. Thus, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) examines sexual violence in Korean universities, problems with helping victims of sexual violence, and measures to handle sexual violence in universities.

Sexual Violence in Korean Universities

Sexual harassment has not been considered an indisputable crime in Korea for very long. The first sexual harassment court case in Korea took place in 1993 when a research assistant at Seoul National University was sexually harassed by her professor. Ever since that first court case, the number of sexual violence incidents in universities has surprisingly increased. According to research conducted by the Korean Association of Gender Equality on Campus (KAGEC), from 2013 to July of 2015, the average number of sexual violence incidents on each campus in Korea was 2.48. The number almost doubled compared to 2012, as statistics from the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRC) state that the average was 1.18 at that time. According to a report the Ministry of Education received from a member of the National Assembly, Park Joo-sun from the People’s Party, the number of sexual violence incidents from 2010 to 2014 was 100, and the number of sexual violence incidents involving faculty members was 31. These figures, however, are not precise. It is speculated that the actual number of sexual violence incidents is actually higher because statistics were not collected by all universities in Korea. Only 39% of the universities handed in statistics regarding sexual violence. Most universities are refusing to hand in statistics not only because it is not mandatory, but also because universities are worried that their reputations will be damaged. On top of that, the Ministry of Education is not even systematically managing statistics regarding sexual violence. According to a member of the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Education gathers and puts together statistics only when the National Assembly asks for it. In contrast, in the United States (US), the Clery Act, which was amended in 1990, requires all universities to record all statistics of crimes, including sexual violence, and submit them to the government. Meanwhile, in 2014, the US Department of Education made public the list of 55 universities which may have inappropriately dealt with cases of sexual violence on campus.

Sexual Violence at Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU)

Though it is unfortunate, SKKU is not exempt when it comes to sexual violence. In 2016, Student A posted an apology letter on his Facebook account, admitting that he raped another student. The most heated incident occurred in 2015 when Professor B was sexually harassed by Professor A. This case was almost put to rest when Professor A received a three-month suspension, but it was later revealed that the university supported the assailant from the beginning and tried to reduce the scale of the sexual harassment case. Though Professor B was a victim, she suffered once more because she was ignored by the academic administration.

Processing Procedures at SKKU

The process of handling sexual violence incidents at SKKU is written in its Regulations on Prevention and Treatment of Sexual Violence. A victim or a third-person can report a case to the Gender Equality Center (GEC) if one has experienced sexual violence. When a report of sexual violence is made or a sexual violence case is revealed through counseling, a counselor reports the case to the head of the center. The investigation then begins. The center asks the victim or a person related to the incident either to attend and write a statement or to hand in materials that are related to the case. Before the committee meeting, the center then holds meetings with the victim, the respondents, the incident- related persons and observers to determine whether sexual violence actually took place. Next, the committee reviews and verifies actions necessary for the disposition of the case, including whether the conduct of the respondent is actually sexual violence. If the conduct is found to be sexual violence, the committee decides what disciplinary actions to take. At the request of the victim, an agreement between the victim and the respondent can be reached through the GEC. At the end, the committee reports the outcome of the case to the dean of the university and informs the resulting outcome to the respondent and the victim.

Problems with Helping Victims of Sexual Violence in Universities

According to a survey conducted by NHRC with 350 undergraduate and graduate students in 2015, only 52% of them contended that they would report a case of sexual violence if it were to occur. The main reason why half of them answered as such is because sexual violence victims are not protected on campus. Each campus has its own procedures for when sexual violence occurs, but they have problems.

Counseling Centers

Counseling centers are responsible for both the prevention and treatment of sexual violence, but students are indifferent, biased, and even express hatred toward sexual violence prevention programs. This reveals an unfortunate reality where students are not aware of the seriousness of sexual violence. Universities, however, are partially responsible for this problem because programs for sexual violence prevention are perfunctory. Universities also do not promote their counseling centers, so not all students are aware of the existence of them. Even if students knew where counseling centers were, they still do not visit them because they are worried about confidentiality.

The Process of Handling Sexual Violence Cases

The process of handling sexual violence cases is not perfect. The status gap between victims and respondents and non-cooperation from respondents cause problems. Vertical relationships such as professor-student and professor-graduate assistant prevent reports and encourage further sexual violence. It is also tricky to handle sexual violence cases because universities do not have standardized procedures. If there existed a system to share, manage, and accumulate data about all sexual violence cases in universities, a guideline could be established for reference, and it would be easier to handle sexual violence cases. Universities, however, do not let their counseling centers share and publicize sexual violence cases because they believe that occurrences of sexual violence on campus hurt their reputations. The informal process that is widely used to handle sexual violence has limitations. The process is useful to enable settlements of cases and restorative justice that suits the characteristics of universities. It, however, is difficult to apply the process to “power-related sexual crimes” such as crimes between students and professors. It is also difficult to manage insubordination and nonfulfillment of disciplinary actions in the future.

Disciplinary Actions and Follow-up

There remains questions as to whether the disciplinary procedures function properly. Unlike normal committees, the disciplinary committees of the universities do not necessarily take the gender ratios into consideration, and outside experts are not able to participate as committee members. Just like the investigation processes that can fail to consider an incident from the victim’s point of view, a similar incident may occur in the deliberation process of the disciplinary committees. Even though disciplinary actions are finalized in disciplinary committees, victims still suffer. First, it is difficult for victims to return to their original communities, and it is almost impossible for them to participate in activities at the universities like they did in the past because of the gazes they receive on campus. Second, the fact that universities have their own disciplinary procedures causes problems. If assailants disagree with the disciplinary actions and sue universities for their autonomous process of handling sexual violence cases, confidentiality is not kept as victims are often called in as testifiers, and furthermore, universities become timid when handling sexual violence cases with their own procedures.

Measures to Handle Sexual Violence in Universities

It is acknowledged that the constitution has played a vital role in helping victims to make public claims against perpetrators. The constitution, which definitely contains repressive characteristics, however, has its limits. It is now necessary to reflect on the causes of sexual violence that have been infiltrating Korean society and to protect the victims by solving structural problems through procedures including counseling, coordination, and remedies.

Efforts Needed by Universities

To reduce sexual violence on campus, the university authorities have to take measures. First, the university authorities have to show their willingness to obliterate sexual violence on campus. If universities show a firm stance that they will never tolerate sexual violence and discrimination, the university communities will establish norms that respect the sexual rights of their members in educational, learning, research, and working environments. The hope is that the voluntary actions of the members of universities will naturally create a gender- equal university culture in the end. Second, the university authorities have to support the establishment and operation of independent organizations solely dedicated to sexual violence in universities. Since the initial response is more important than anything, it is necessary to have a counseling mechanism that is accessible to victims and secures confidentiality. It is also necessary to relocate the department directly under the authority of the deans of the universities so that support for victims and the process of handling sexual violence can be more efficient. Third, university authorities need to implement continuous and repetitive education to improve people’s awareness of gender equality. Sexual violence on campus occurs because of gender stereotypes, hierarchized sexuality, and unequal social spheres caused by differences in gender experienced among university members. Thus, it is necessary to educate how people can practice gender equality by changing gender discriminating cultures and through awareness. It is also vital to change the behaviors and awareness of perpetrators to prevent further sexual violence.

Efforts Needed by Related Ministries

Reduction of sexual violence can be more effective if the efforts of the university authorities are combined with those of related government agencies. First, it would be helpful if sexual violence prevention and treatment provisions were included in the laws and regulations of the Ministry of Education. Laws and regulations of the Ministry of Education do not have laws prohibiting sexual violence on campus. In the US, the Clery Act requires that designated members investigate and report the result regardless of the victims’ will and investigations done by the police. Thus, just like the case of the US, officials of the Ministry of Education have to consider amending new provisions regarding sexual violence in the Framework Act on Education. Second, items related to prevention and treatment of sexual violence must be included in evaluations of universities. In the university evaluation criteria which are based on the Act on Special Cases concerning the Disclosure of Information by Education- related Institutions in Higher Education Act, there are no items related to sexual violence prevention and processes of dealing with grievances. It is necessary to include assessment criteria such as “creating a safe educational environment away from sexual violence” in evaluation areas of the agency accreditation certificate. Third, the Ministry of Education has to establish a dedicated department for gender equality and assign dedicated personnel to deal with sexual violence. Since the abolition of the Office of Women Policy Officers, which was installed in all government ministries, the emphasis on gender equality on campus and the support for and cooperation of related departments are diminishing. Thus, the Ministry of Education needs to establish a gender equality department and hire experts not only to prevent and react to sexual violence, but also to cultivate an environment which encourages gender equality.

The Gender Equality Center on the Humanities and Social Sciences Campus

In order to reduce and ultimately eradicate sexual violence on campus, not only do governments need to work harder, but faculty members and students also have to change. If Kingos experience or witness sexual violence on campus, they should never be afraid. Every Kingo must immediately report it to the Gender Equality Center, which is located on the first floor of the Dasan Hall of Economics building on the Humanities and Social Sciences Campus and on the first floor of the General Studies building on the Natural Sciences Campus. Counselors will greet and help Kingos solve problems while maintaining their confidentiality.

강병찬  kpc0629z@naver.com

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