Korea Taking Sexual Harassment More Seriously

by Bae Ji-sook, Staff Reporter Korea Times, 07/07/2007

University junior Shin was embarrassed when her professor Hong openly pointed out in class that she is less pretty than the other students. Moreover, he said that her ova would be expensive because she looks "okay,'' in case of egg donation. He also allegedly put his hand on her shoulder and looked into her eyes.

She demanded on apology but was refused one. When the National Human Rights Commission received her case and called him in, he then apologized for what he had never thought was rude behavior.

Men being from "Mars'' and women being from "Venus'' are no exceptions to perception of sexual harassment in Korea. Most men consider physical contact a misdemeanor but women include verbal comments as well as hidden meanings in this category.

There is, in fact, no clear line determining rude behavior and sexual harassment _ it is often up to how the victim feels. If a person feels sexually embarrassed by a gesture, then they consider it sexual harassment.

According to the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development, female students feel embarrassment when professors say things like. "There's no use in teaching you this hard, once you all get married, you will just stay home and never use this.''

The responses imply that female students take what some professors consider light-hearted humor or complements on appearance as sexual harassment.

After the notorious incident of Rep. Choi Yeon-hee of the Grand National Party groping a female reporter during a drinking session last year, more people realized that sexual harassment can threaten one's career and social standing.

Recently, a university instructor who made an obscene phone call to his Japanese student asking for sex in return for a full grade lost his job after the student revealed the incident on a nationwide TV program.

As more people become aware of the term and its implications, counselors and experts receive questions from women who wonder if they have been victims of such treatment.

"If someone talks about how I wear my skirt or makeup, can I say it's sexual harassment? My colleague told me that I lost some weight and that he should tell me so, meaning that he could tell the difference. Clearly this is harassment, isn't it?'' These are some of the questions Seoul National University Center for Sexual Assault Prevention receives every day.

Sexual harassment is not restricted ot women only, men are also victims. It was reported that in Hong Kong one-fourth of office workers experienced sexual harassment and one-third of them were men. However, they were too ashamed to talk about it.

The commission has received only 220 petitions on sexual harassment cases for the past two years. Once the petition is registered, the investigators look into each case for a ruling. Wrongdoers _ mostly men _ are asked to make an official apology and take an educational program that the commission conducts.

For those who are still confused, the commission's advice may help: Do not take your colleagues to strip clubs or any sexually suggestive places for dinner or drinks _ it can be referred to as environmental sexual harassment. Do not criticize a victim of sexual harassment as if she or he encouraged the misdemeanor _ it is a gradual harassment. Do not write love letters suggesting anything sexual _ though it may sound romantic, it could cause you to take human rights education classes as well as make an open apology to someone you care about.

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