Walking alone at night through the streets of Aberdeen in Scotland, I always followed the basic precautions. I stuck to well lit areas, main roads and I even had a small can of hairspray hidden in my coat sleeve. Some may refer to the latter as paranoid but I saw it as a simple precaution. I am not of great strength. If I was to be attacked I would have little hope coming out of an attack unscathed. I needed to give myself a chance.
Although sporadic compared to crimes in my homeland the existence of crime in South Korea exists. I moved to South Korea in September last year to become an English teacher and found myself under the impression that it would be a lot safer walking its streets at night than my homeland’s. It felt strange to me that I might feel safer in another country. How disappointing it was not to feel safe in the place I call home. After a few weeks of living in South Korea, my consensus of feeling safe had not changed. A few reads of expat blogs, primary expat accounts and a couple of walks after dark, I realised I am just as at much risk here as I am at home.
Looking to kill some time in between classes this morning, I had a scroll through the most recent posts on waygook.org, a site where foreign English teachers based in South Korea can share lesson plans and discuss general goings on in and around the country. One in particular caught my eye, “Ladies, do you find Korea to be dangerous?” My answer being yes, I was intrigued to read further. The poster of the topic had asked the question due to an argument he had had with his (Korean) girlfriend. She was making her way to his apartment to visit him but had accidentally taken the wrong bus. The bus she took dropped her off approximately a ten minute walk away from his apartment. She then called her boyfriend asking him to come and meet her as she felt uncomfortable walking alone in the dark. To cut to the point, he felt she was being overdramatic by asking her boyfriend to simply come and walk with her to his apartment, where they had arranged to hang out, after dark. I was appalled to read that he felt she was being paranoid about walking alone at night.
Any (foreign) female you meet in South Korea will have a story relating to either sexual harassment, sexual assault or violent assault. I have had four in the past nine months. Two violent assaults from Korean men, one from a foreign man and one experience of sexual harassment from a Korean man. I have also been asked if I am a prostitute. Compared to the three cases of sexual harassment, zero cases of violent assault and never being asked if I was a prostitute during my four years at University, it would appear that South Korea is perhaps not all that safe, for women.
Whereas crimes relating to firearms, knifes and drug are rare it appears that sexual and violent crimes are not. It is difficult to determine the exact statistics of these crimes due to many women not reporting them due to Korea’s heavily flawed justice system.
Women 1: “I was sexually assaulted by a man in a club.”
Police officer: “You most likely led him on, gave him a false a false impression or provoked the assault yourself.”
Women 2: “I would like to report a rape.”
Police officer: “You shouldn’t have been wearing something so provocative.”
One of the major problems with Korean men is that they think objectification is a form of flattery. Walking up to you in bars, putting their arm round you, and calling you beautiful is their way of making a move. Brush them off, and they only become more pushy, more forward, more handsy. You give them a slap across the cheek and you get a fist in the face back.
It saddens me that women have to feel danger, not only in South Korea but any in country. Why should we have to take precautions and hide a can of hairspray in our sleeve? Why should we feel unsafe outside our front door? Why should I have to consider myself lucky not to have been raped? Wouldn’t it make sense for the men to take action and stop all of this? Obviously not, after all, I am a 24 year old female. I go out, I have fun with my friends and I wear nice dresses. I clearly deserved the seven cases of male instigated harassment I received in my life. It’s part of being a woman.