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 even had hairspray, or something that could be used in defence, hidden in my coat sleeve. Some may refer to this 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, crime in South Korea exists. When I moved here 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 here however, the 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 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’ve had at least one of each myself out here in the last nine months. Compared to the three incidents of this nature I had during my four years at university, it would appear 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 where the woman’s behaviour and clothing are usually blamed for the attack.
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 worldwide. 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 deserve a few cases of male instigated harassment in life. It’s part of being a woman.