The Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center, the first of its kind in Korea, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
The number of counselling cases handled by the Center as of April 30 2001 stands at some 21,106. And since the opening of an SOS center in 1994, the number of emergency cases increased by 31%. Also, since the revision of the Equal Employment Act to include a 'sexual harrassment at work' clause and the legislation of the Anti-Discrimination Act, the number of relevant cases as well as the total number of cases rose by 20% respectively. Currently, the Center has 72 branches throughout the country.
Over the years, the Center not only provided counselling but also played a leading role in enacting the Special Act on Sexual Violence. It also contributed significantly to putting the once-taboo issue of sexual violence on Korea's social agenda and to changing Korean public's attitude regarding sexual violence.
Professor Jang Pil Hwa (Women's Studies, Ehwa Women's University) evaluated the achievements of the ten-year-old center, saying, "The center had a considerable influence in society, converting the censorious attitude towards victims of sexual violence into the realization that anyone can become a victim and that the victim is not to blame. It also made men aware that they all carry the potential to victimize someone."
Despite the accomplishments of the Center, it is still struggling to solve financial problems. The staff explain that such problems cause counsellors to abandon cases halfway in search of better paying jobs. What is more disheartening is the lack of support the center can provide for victims of incest and sexual violence who have nowhere to go.
Other urgent needs of the Center to ensure successful counselling include a network of doctors and the police, and the assistance of dedicated professionals such as lawyers.
[Interview] Director Choi Young Ae of the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center
"Back then, sexual violence was an unfamiliar concept that people avoided talking about. Even those in the feminist movement considered it a secondary problem. But I felt that the problem of sexual violence was something that could unite all of us by our gender alone, regardless of our different class interests."
Ten years ago, Director Choi was wondering how to move on after obtaining a Master's degree in Women's Studies at Ehwa Women's University. Then she heard from a close colleague stories about relief centers for victims of sexual violence in other countries, and decided her destiny. She collected all the relevant materials she could and gathered like-minded people, and finally opened the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center on April 13, 1991.
Director Choi says that the Center has concentrated on handling emergency cases in the past. From now on, she plans to not only provide relief for victims but also prepare them for rehabilitation by providing proper sex education and by changing social attitudes and norms.