Laws, though powerful when prosecuting the guilty, rarely strike the heart of the problem that encompasses not only the high frequency of sexual harassment, but also the overabundance of cases lying undiscovered. The continuous outpour of sexual harassment allegations against prominent figures and the subsequent #MeToo movement, with its millions of uses, showed the extent of such unreported cases; the key components missing in the addressing of such sexual offenses are preventative measures and the establishment of mediums and processes that guarantee a thorough investigation into each case that is reported, whether through official legal means or through the workplace.
In relation, Korea also faced a major incident of its own: Hanssem, a major interior design corporation, faced heavy criticism when a formal employee published a detailed account online of repeated sexual assault committed by her superiors. The testimony stated that after reporting a colleague filming her in the bathroom, the co-workers that initially helped her with police procedures later forcibly assaulted her. However, other than the first case, no legal consequences were given, and the writer claimed rather that her salary had been cut as a form of punishment for “the corruption of public morals” by engaging in sexual activities with a co-worker.
Several feminist and female-dominant communities not only raged at the company’s concealment of the incidents, but also at the incompetence of law enforcement as well as the opinions of some that viewed the employee as a “flower snake”, a derogatory Korean term used to refer to “gold diggers”, or women who exploit men with their sex appeal. Though some have pointed out the inconsistencies in the author’s narrative and that no single account should be taken as the absolute truth without proper investigation into the issue, the organizations berated the entrenched doubt on the plaintiff’s account by society, which they stated creates an invisible barrier that discourages victims from speaking out in fear of ostracization and disadvantages in their career paths.
Just as the Harvey Weinstein allegations that left a long trail of additional charges, another anonymous author reported a case of sexual assault within the working environment of Hyundai Card — while the legitimacy of the accusations has yet to be determined, many refused to buy the products from the businesses, criticizing their indifferent response to the incidents. Soon, the public’s boycott of the company’s products resulted in the stock prices of Hanssem falling by 2.64% on November 6, a day after which the plaintiff’s post was published on Nate, a South Korean web portal. The people pointed out the corporations’ tendencies to keep the issues undercover, rather than focusing on the incident itself lest it hurts the company’s image and reputation.
Aptly, at KAIST, the topic of sexual harassment and assault was a major part of Human Rights Week, an annual event that aims to promulgate minority right issues, held during the week of October 30. First, an English seminar was held specifically for international students on the subject of gender equality. Other seminars included panels on sexual discrimination and attacks in the STEM fields, as well as “Understanding of and Actions Against Cyber Sexual Assault”. Such seminars tackled the gender and sex-related premonitions interwoven into the fabric of small- and large-scale communities, including the ones that especially hit close to home for KAIST members, both international and domestic.
The central theme of the panels was not to necessarily offer concrete solutions, but rather to inform KAISTians about the acute existence of the problematic behaviors and the difficulty in finding ways to combat such behaviors. By acknowledging the existence, the victims have much more agency to speak up about their experiences sooner, in order for inspections and legal proceedings to be more effective.
Like the initial push that starts a line of dominoes, the bursts of recent cases initiated a series of chain reactions that shook all over the world. Individually, each piece has little influence on the status quo but as the big picture unfolds block by block, all the cases, the movement, and the effort to educate on the issue can bring significant change to how the legal system and society deals with the painful events that victims now fight with their strong roars of justice.