A still from the film “Dogani,” which was based on a true story of school teachers sexually assaulting students at a regional school for the disabled. The government has established a set of measures to toughen punishment for sex criminals against children following the release of the movie.
/ Korea Times file
By Na Jeong-ju
Sex crimes at schools became an issue of fiery debate here following the release of “Dogani,” a film based on a shocking true story of teachers sexually abusing physically-challenged students at a regional school.
The government and schools are belatedly introducing diverse measures to deal more sternly with sexual abuses and harassments committed at schools.
Still, there are many students who don’t feel their schools are safe from sex crimes.
According to the latest survey by Women’s Hotline, sexual harassment of female middle and high school students by educators _ school teachers, hagwon instructors and private tutors ― has reached grave proportions.
One in every four or 722 of the 2,986 students polled said that their teachers have surreptitiously touched their backs and behinds.
Among them, 126, or 4.6 percent, answered that they have repeatedly experienced such treatment, making sexual harassment a serious problem for these teenagers.
Sexually provocative words are even more widespread than physical contact ― 20.4 percent of the middle and high school students answered that their teachers have made sexual jokes and comments to them.
In addition, 13.9 percent of respondents said that their teachers have intentionally come in extremely close physical contact with them and another 7.6 percent claim that their instructors have touched the area near their breasts.
The survey results are only an indication showing how sexual abuse and harassment are widespread in schools.
To fight such crimes, the education ministry plans to inspect all teachers and school officials to discipline those involved in sex crimes.
Following the probe, the ministry will ask regional educational offices to keep such teachers away from students and be disadvantaged in recruiting, repositioning and promotion, according to ministry officials.
The ministry conducted an investigation between May and July on staff working at 189,759 kindergartens, elementary, middle and high schools as well as private institutes nationwide to try and weed out sex offenders.
Some 17,000 people refused to give their consent to the probe. Of them, 10,556 were teachers or officials at elementary, middle and high schools and the rest were from kindergartens and private institutes, according to the ministry.
“We will soon begin inspecting those who rejected the request based on related rules on protecting children and juveniles from crimes,” a ministry official said.
“Those convicted of sex offenses or who have received disciplinary measures for involvement in sexual abuse and harassment cases in the past will be disadvantaged.”
Under related laws, teachers and school officials who received prison terms for committing sex crimes should be expelled and banned from taking education-related posts for up to 10 years.
The ministry plans to strengthen regulations on punishing education officials convicted of sex crimes.
“The minimum sentence for such penalties will be adjusted to fines of more than 1 million won from the current jail term,” the official said.
Last month, President Lee Myung-bak also called for steps to prevent crimes against the disabled and children, after watching the movie “Dogani.” Of the six teachers charged regarding the case, only two received actual jail terms of less than a year, with the others receiving suspended terms or being acquitted of the charges.
Crimes by acquaintances
Officials say it is necessary to make legal and institutional supplements to prevent a similar incident from happening again. But more pressing is to reform social consciousness.
Another survey showed one out of three cases of sexual violence is committed by an acquaintance of the victim.
Out of 25,788 victims of sexual violence who sought counseling at 43 counseling centers, 38.6 percent were assaulted or raped by someone they already knew, shattering the stereotypical image of sexual violence being committed by a stranger lurking in dark corners.
The statistics may be much higher as 48.6 percent decline to name their assailants.
By relationship to their victims, 8.8 percent of the assailants are co-workers or bosses, 8.2 percent are neighbors, 7.2 percent are classmates, 6.9 percent are family members, 4.3 percent are relatives or in-laws, and 3.2 percent are professors or teachers.
Only 12.8 percent of all sexual violence is committed by strangers.
“Women usually conceal the fact they were victims of sexual violence and try to deal with the crime themselves as they are too embarrassed and ashamed. However, there are gradually more women who are willing to report the crime and press charges against the perpetrators,” a spokesman of the Women’s Hotline said.
The problem is that many elementary, middle and high school students in Seoul are perceiving dangers of crime in and around school compounds.
According to a survey on 1,750 primary, middle and high school students compiled by the Seoul Foundation of Women and Family, 29.3 percent of the total respondents answered that schools and their surroundings are not safe from dangers of violence and sex crimes.
The percentage of pupils who have been sexually harassed in school marked 8.3 percent for primary school students and 10.7 percent for middle and high school students, the survey showed.
According to a report from the education ministry, most of the middle and high school victims of sexual abuse said they did not tell anybody about the incidents, while only 54.2 percent of elementary school children said they discussed it with their parents.
The report also included cases of private university professors repeatedly sexually harassing their female students either physically or verbally.
One teacher at a high school in Seoul was dismissed after taking his pants off in front of teenagers at night while under the influence of alcohol.
Another professor at a university of education was found to have committed verbal sexual harassment on multiple occasions and even sexually assaulted one of the students.
Other professors were found to have gone to cabarets while on a long-term sick leave, or taken favored students on an illicit golf trip, according to the report.