South Korea's Silenced Speak
Image Credit: Wikicommons / Steve46814

South Korea's Silenced Speak


For almost 13 years, In-hae says she spent much of her time cowering in fear, on constant alert for the next round of sexual abuse, in a place she should have been at her safest: her home.

Suffering at the hands of a close relative from the age of 7, it took the guts of a 19 year-old, enrolled in college and introduced to a world of until then unknown freedoms, to flee the scene of her torment and finally report the matter to the authorities.

But for In-hae, now living in a center for victims of sexual violence, even finding the courage to file a complaint was a journey fraught with emotional turmoil.

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In patriarchal South Korea, sexual crime, say campaigners, is often hushed up, while the cases that do result in a conviction often end in lenient sentences. But it’s an issue the country has been forced to confront in recent weeks. A blockbuster movie called “Dogani” (The Crucible), or Silenced, has thrust the topic of sexual crime onto the national agenda, highlighting the vulnerability of the disabled and minors in South Korean society.

The film tells the real-life story of the years of sexual abuse suffered by children with hearing problems at the hands of teachers at a school in Gwangju, in the southwest of the country. Though the case saw two convictions, viewers have been aghast at what they’ve seen in the film, which depicts the sexual assaults, attempts at a cover-up, and the fight for justice by the victims.

In turn, it has lit the touch paper of national outrage, leading to calls for tougher sex crime laws and harsher punishments. Many citizens claimed to see in the film an accurate, catch-all image of the country as a whole: a place where the law supports the strong over the weak. Some point to the way in which members of the chaebol families – those that control South Korean conglomerates like Samsung, LG and Lotte – appear to act as if they are above the law as a classic example of life here.

One case involving a trucking company boss, who beat up a unionist before an audience of executives before throwing a check for cash in the victim's face, drew headlines after the perpetrator received only a suspended sentence. He’s related to one of the country’s wealthiest men.

In In-hae’s view, this was merely another example of a society that “supports the victimizer” and “blames the victim.”

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