I wish I were a Lawyer- long way for justice for rape victims in Korea

31 Jan

By now, my dear friends, you already know that I can’t just sit down and write regularly, unless I get inspired and fired up by certain things or I have pressing needs to share certain things about my life with you. But here I am, writing, because I read about this terrible situation regarding justice system in Korea regarding survivors of rape, especially those who are already socially vulnerable, in this case, female marriage migrants. By writing this, I am not saying that I am an expert on any Korean legal issues, and I’m rather not. I’m purely basing my opinion on numerous articles that I read about it.

So I read this article on Chosun Daily, one of Korea’s major newspapers. Sorry that most of you won’t be able to read this, but this is a vague translation of it.

“Mr. Kim (52) was sentenced 7 and half years in jail as he was guilty of raping his Vietnamese wife (26)’s teenage sister (note: Nothing was mentioned that he was accused of spouse rape but it was mentioned that he beat up his wife severely. I’m not sure what kind of charge was pressed against him regarding the violence committed against his wife). The sister, ‘B,’ now 21, was interviewed by the journalist at a very secluded rehabilitation house that she has been staying after her and her sister were found terribly violated by Kim 2 and half years ago (note: yes, it took almost 3 years to find the minimal justice for the sisters). The officer remembers how awful the sisters looked, the older sister with a lot of bruises and the younger one simply filthy and full of fear. The husband conveniently had seizures whenever he had to discuss anything against his position.

B, a petite woman, seemed more like a middle school girl with her young face. She seemed to feel hopeful since she will be going back to Vietnam soon. The head of the rehab said that at the beginning, she always seemed so depressed and told people that she wants to die when she was talking on the phone.

B lived in a greenhouse, and she worked for 300,000 won (about 300 dollars) for her labor in the farm, but Kim took it all. She feared every Saturday when he came to pick her up, because she knew that he would rape her back home. She reacts with extreme fear towards the word ‘hyongbu’ (which is a term for older sister’s husband in Korean), as well as not being able to have conversations with new people and afraid of Korean men.

For the first fetus, after being raped by Kim, she was able to get abortion, and for the second time, she had a baby through c-section. The police said that she was ‘lucky’ that she could get medical care since she was found after the brother-in-law was under police custody. Her sister (Kim’s wife) had to have the children at home without any medical attention.

The journalist asked why B signed the ‘agreement’ with someone who imposed such terrible violence on him (I wondered about it too!). She said that she doesn’t want her sister to suffer from the in-law’s family while her sister is still married, have 4 children, and will probably have to live with the husband when he comes out of jail.”

By now, I said out loud, WHAT THE HECK?!?!? I suppose the domestic violence charge was dropped, and the couple probably signed an “agreement.” I was angry when I read this article about nothing further was done in terms of the violence that the wife had to suffer and what a short sentence he is obliged to serve.

But I realized that I’m probably coming from a privileged woman’s position with high education and much protection (lucky enough not to go through such trauma) where I believe that in facing sexual violence, a woman should do A, B and C. But the truth is that I really don’t know what would happen if my husband/partner was a violent psychotic predator who has the guts to impose such violence on me and my family. Especially for the case of B’s sister, she is in an extremely vulnerable position, perhaps worse than me. I would at least have social protection, friends who are lawyers, activists and therapists, proper connections, access to justice, and for god’s sake, language skill to explain what kind of situation that I had been in, although I would have been physically and psychologically damaged. But this woman, as someone who probably comes from a not so well-t0-do family back home, has limited human connections, knowledge and power to do anything in a society where xenophobia and racism are still largely prevalent. Even if she had the courage to get a divorce out of him, what is next for her for the rest of her life? As mentioned, she already has 4 kids, and she would have to fight for custody. Can she go back home? I don’t know much about Vietnamese culture, but I know Confucian culture is dominant, and she would be stigmatized with a certain notion regarding her status as a divorcee with kids. How would she maintain her livelihood in the future while she probably has not worked for a long time and is not likely to be skilled in anything specific?

Perhaps I’m making a lot of assumptions here, and I may seem like I’m too focused on the victimhood. Yes, I’m so upset about this whole situation, and anyone with common sense should be. But what I’m more upset about this is to see the fact that the current Korean legal/justice system is still not ready to protect victims/survivors of rape, still not looking at it as a serious crime that should be punished more seriously than anything else. It is highly stigmatized, therefore many women still refrain from reporting to the police, and the un-supportive, largely patriarchal system do not take sexual violence as a grave crime which is extremely destructive to a society. It is a depressing cycle. Gender equality –despite the fact that the gender ratio in medical and law schools is roughly about 50:50– is something yet to come in Korea, and according to the US State Department’s Report in 2010, violence against women (mostly rape and domestic violence) is the most pressing issue regarding women’s human rights and Korea’s human rights matters in general (and this happens to be the most comprehensive English sources at the moment for me). According to the report, fewer than half of the 8,746 cases of sexual violence cases were submitted, and fewer than 4,000 were prosecuted. About 40% of married women suffer from domestic violence.

Now, can you imagine how many cases are not reported and/or ignored? What about spousal abuse against migrant women?

Of course, I do not want to undermine the various aspects in violence against women, but in this particular case, it is rather clear that Korean policies and justice system failed to provide proper protection for the women who suffered sexual violence and who are in an extremely vulnerable position as non-native Korean citizens. So what would happen in 7 and half years when the husband comes back out? Will the system really let this man get back to his wife and children while it seems rather obvious that the man is mentally unstable with violent tendency and would not be able to serve his responsibility as a father and a husband? And meanwhile, who is going to watch how the woman and the children will survive from this traumatic experience and excruciating memory? How does Korea prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again?

I’m not suggesting that I can come up with better laws and policies at this moment, especially when matters are so complex. And sexual violence has so many different aspects, that I won’t ever be able to understand the diversity of it fully. But I think there is a value in that we know these awful things happen everywhere in the world and that we should be concerned as, well, human beings.

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