“20 million women in outrage” WN tracks the case and reports the scene
"How dare, you woman!" No one would imagine saying such a thing now, but you could commonly hear it in 1980s. Innocent women could easily become guilty just because they were women. In 1988, in order to overcome gender discrimination and establish true democracy, 1,000 shareholders gathered and created “Women’s News (“WN”).” Since then, WN has treaded a thorny path, serving as an unwavering spokesperson for women. 25 years have passed. People’s perception changed from “women with issues” to “women’s issues,” and now WN is working to change it once again to “women’s perspective.” To mark the 25th anniversary, Women’s News will run “Reply Women’s News” series every Friday to introduce major issues reported by Women’s News from 1988 to 2013. [Editor]
September, 1988, when the upcoming Seoul Olympics drenched the entire country in excitement, one woman was in more pain than any other. She wailed miserably as she stepped out of the Andong Prison in 119 days.
“Please help me prove the truth. I would give up my life if I have to. The indictment or the ruling is nowhere close to what really happened. This is so unfair.”
Her name was Byun Wol-su, and the case became known as “Byun Wol-su” case, after her name. Even to this day, it’s often cited as a good example for showing how gender discrimination is deeply rooted in the judiciary, when it comes to sexual violence. 2 years later, it was made into a film, “Only Because You Are A Woman(starring Won Mi-kyung).”
The full account of the case is as follows: Byun, a housewife(32, Andong), bit the tongue of the assailant when two men attempted to rape her on her way home at around 1AM. The parents of the two men sued Byun, referring to her as “a slut.” The parents caused a stir by taking out an alcohol bottle with the bitten off piece of the tongue.
At the first trial, Byun was sentenced to 6 months of imprisonment and 1 year of probation on charges of violating “the Act on the Punishment of Violent Acts.” The assailant’s lawyer lashed her out as an immoral woman, saying “a housewife returned home late and drunk,” and “she was a problematic woman who caused at home,” all of which were irrelevant to the case. The ruling also reflected the male-oriented mentality of prosecutors and judges. They argued that it was hard to say Byun bit the tongue out of fear since the crime scene was near many shops and assailants didn’t possess a weapon.
From the very first issue in 1988, Women’s News tracked and reported everything from the outbreak of “Byun Wol-su case” to her acquittal. Not only Byun but justice of all women depended on this case. WN strived in various ways, cracking down on all speculations and groundless rumors in order to unveil the truth.
For example, WN ran a news report titled “20 Million Women in a Fury (October 28, 1988, Society),” which contained the interview with Byun Won-su, her husband, Kim Soon-il.
At the time, the victim, Byun told WN, “I would give up my life if I have to. The indictment or the ruling is nowhere close to what really happened.“ Her husband, Kim Soon-il also tried all possible means to prove her innocence.
Women’s groups also issued a statement of protest to the judiciary on the absurd ruling. Korea Women’s Hotline strongly argued Byun’s innocence by holding a forum on eradicating violence against women (“Is fighting back in self-defense during rape a crime?”) and joined hands with women’s organizations in Daegu and Korean Women’s Association United, pledging to fight until they gain victory. Lawyers like Cho Chang-yeong and Kang Kiwon stepped out to defend her pro bono, and joined the struggle by forming a defense counsel.
At last, Daegu High Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Byun, delivering the verdict of not guilty. “Byun’s act of accidentally biting perpetrator’s tongue in order to protect chastity and physical safety is legitimate self defense against wrongful violation of her sexual virginity and body,” ruled the Criminal Department at Daegu High Court (Presiding Judge: Chief Judge Byun Jae-seung) at the final hearing, annulling the original decision.
This verdict broke the precedent and instead, established a good precedent for creating “the minimum legal protection” of women’s sexuality and human rights.
Roh Younghee, co-representative of Korea Women’s Hotline at the time, said “The victory will go down in history of women’s movement as case that contributed to the eradication of violence against women. This victory is not of Byun alone, but of all women.”
“The verdict for this case showed the strong influence of objective judgment based on the circumstances of the event and victim’s personal conditions despite the fact that rape is considered as serious a crime as murder or robbery, wrote Chng Pilwha, professor of Women’s Studies at Ewha Womans University in her contribution article to Women’s News, titled “Different Perspectives on Andong Case”
2 decades later, sexual crimes are still rampant and ever more brutal. We should never allow “a second Byun.” There is hope since self-defense is interpreted in a broader sense these days as can be seen in the following case.
On October 23, Uijeongbu District Public Prosecutor’s Office exempted from indictment a woman in her 20s, who bit off a third of the tongue of a man who attempted to forcibly kiss her last year. The police who came upon the perpetrator’s report forwarded the case to the public prosecutor’s office, charging the man for attempted rape and the woman for causing serious bodily harm, but the Citizen Committee, comprised of 9 citizens, in the Public Prosecutor’s Office acknowledged the act as self-defense, saying “It’s hard to consider biting the tongue as an undue reaction compared to the danger(sexual violence) the victim was in.”