[Commentary] Nature of Sexual Violence on Campus
[Commentary] Nature of Sexual Violence on Campus
  • 여성신문
  • 승인 2003.05.06 00:00
  • 수정 2013-07-12 16:27
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Cho Joo-hyun / professor, Womens Studies, Keimyung University
Cho Joo-hyun / professor, Women's Studies, Keimyung University
There are two characteristics of sexual violence cases that occur on university campuses.

First of all, most of the sexual violence cases occur in a closed situation involving just the aggressor and victim. In other words, there is rarely a third party witness, and in most cases, no physical evidence such as tangible signs of aggression. The truth lies in either the testimony of the victim or the aggressor. In sexual violence cases where physical evidence is not the main element in investigations, asking for physical evidence lays the onus on the victim alone. That is why unlike other criminal cases, sexual violence cases are an unfair game in which the burden on victims increases with time.

Secondly, the aggressor and victim in sexual violence cases on campus are not individuals A and B but professor A and female student B. In Korean society, universities are representative organizations that wield symbolic power. Not only because universities are the cradles of knowledge but also because relationships between classmates, junior and senior, and teacher and disciple formed in universities constitute a major axis in Korean society. In Korean universities, the relationship between professors and students is based on authority that goes beyond the giving and receiving of academic credits, and this relationship continues even after the students graduate. In such a structure, professors are representatives of universities, and unlike the West, they are expected to have knowledge and moral character in the likes of classic scholars of the pre-modern era.

Such expectations are evident in victims' accounts, where they say, "It was as shocking as being molested by my father or the church pastor." Lacking physical evidence and based on the teacher-disciple relationship, and occurring in the context of the Korean culture that looks down on sexual violence victims on top of that, sexual violence on campus is often put down as imagined cases. Students doubt the success of exposing the professor as the culprit and bringing him to justice while receiving protection for themselves. Under the circumstances, it is encouraging to see the handful of courageous female students making the difficult choice of initiating open discussions on sexual violence cases. They regard women groups as the only third party they can turn to in solving their problems.

However, women groups supporting such female students have recently been sued for libel by the professors involved. In Daegu, for example, professors K (of K University in Gyeongsan) and L (of K University in Daegu), sued the two co-representatives of Korea Women's Hotline Daegu for libel in cyberspace. The defendants were ordered to pay up 2 million Won by the Assembly Court in October 2002 and 1 million Won by the Appeal Court in April 2003.

K was sentenced to two years' imprisonment and a 3-year suspension of that sentence, and L has been dismissed by his university, but the court still fined the two Hotline representatives because "they had disclosed the professors' names on the Internet based on the one-sided account of the victim alone." The committee set up to deal with the libel suit took issue with the ruling, saying that the ruling had "adverse effects on the public good," but the court in Daegu did not accept the claims of the women groups.

In a situation where victims of sexual violence on campus face difficulties publicizing their case, allowing aggressors to file libel suits against women groups supporting the victims is an attitude that disregards the nature of sexual violence on campus while overly emphasizing the privacy of only the aggressors.

In dealing with sexual violence cases on campus, the focus should be on circumstantial rather than physical evidence, based on which it should be decided if it is the victim or the aggressor who is telling the truth. Sexual violence is a matter of human rights before legal technicalities. Korean society must shift towards a new paradigm in which legal interpretations can be questioned should law and justice fail to protect human rights.

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