TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses sexual assault.

Compared to its northern neighbour, South Korea appears as a liberated and progressive country but in fact, it faces a lot of issues, not the least of which is a deeply entrenched gender inequality.

This gender inequality has been brought to light lately due to a rise in the reported number of sexual assaults and some high-profile cases. In particular, the response of police who appear to not take the issue of sexual assault seriously.

One such case is that of 25 year-old Australian woman, Airdre Mattner, who told her story on 60 Minutes a few weeks ago.

Airdre was drugged and raped whilst holidaying in South Korea last September. The day after she went to authorities where she was questioned for ten hours about irrelevant details such as what she was wearing. The police did not obtain any DNA evidence.

After a campaign by Airdre her attacker was eventually charged. For sexual harassment. Not rape.

Unfortunately, Airdre’s story is not an isolated incident.

A recent Vice article tells the stories of women who were raped and then went to the authorities where they were not taken seriously. One was asked why she did not resist and another faced the suggestion that she was a gold digger.

In another case, a woman was encouraged - by the police - to not press charges due to the fact that her attacker was drunk and would not face a long sentence. Even though her attacker had confessed to the crime.

In cases of rape, victim blaming occurs far too often and this is due to the gender inequality still entrenched within the country.

According to World Economic Forum’s 2014 Gender Gap report, South Korea ranks 117 out of 142 countries.

There are many reasons for this.

Confucianism still has a strong influence on South Korean society and this is partly to blame for gender inequality. Confucian thought teaches that a woman must follow a man and emphasises the importance of chastity for a woman.

Due to this many men do not see their actions as abusive and neither do the authorities. 

Beauty is also important for Korean women and seen as their best trait. It is estimated that 1 in 5 South Korean women have had cosmetic surgery, these are the highest rates in the world. Last year, in a reporton foreign correspondent into education in South Korea it was cited that after finishing high school girls are usually given surgery as a present.

Unfortunately, whilst one cannot deny that in most countries a woman’s worthiness is firstly based on her looks it is clear that this is a real problem in South Korea. If society cannot accept a woman’s worth as greater, objectification continues and therefore so does a rape culture.

There is also the simple fact that men are threatened. Women in South Korea are gaining more qualifications than ever before and becoming a force to be reckoned with in the workplace, and the men do not want to lose their power.

One can only hope with the rise in reporting of assaults and the continued news coverage that this problem will cease.


Sarah Long