Hotbed of harassment
Subways have become a hotbed for sexual offenses against women. According to the National Police Agency, the number of reported cases that occurred on subways nationwide more than doubled between 2008 and 2010.
In Seoul, sexual offenses on the subway were most frequent between Shillim and Gangnam stations on Line 2, followed by between Bucheon and Shindorim stations on Line 1, the Seoul District Prosecutors’ Office said, based on a review of 100 cases it handled.
About 60 percent of reported sexual harassments occurred during commuting hours ― between 8-9 a.m. and 6-8 p.m.
Sex offenses also happen in the middle part of the day when there are fewer passengers.
One day a couple of weeks ago, my wife told me that a man sexually harassed her on an afternoon subway train.
She took Line 6 via Line 3 to visit her favorite beauty parlor situated near the Seoul World Cup Stadium. She sat beside an elderly man who pretended to be asleep.
Then something terrible happened to my wife when she closed her eyes. The man thrust his hand beneath her bag. It surprised her, and she swiftly moved to a vacant seat on the opposite side.
But the man did not stop there. He made a second sexual assault on another passenger. At the next stop, a female college student came in and took the seat vacated by my wife. The student was using her smart phone. Then my wife saw his hand sneak beneath her bag. She fled to a remote seat.
Last week, public outrage erupted over sexual assaults on two women, which occurred on Line 5 a week earlier. One victim said a man who sat on her right after getting on at Janghanpyeong station, repeatedly jabbed his elbow into her breast.
She said she tried to push his elbow with her elbow. However, the man resisted, and continued to harass her with his elbow. She bent over at the waist to stop him.
She said the man finally moved to a vacant seat beside another woman on the opposite side, and pretended to sleep. She took pictures of the man pushing his elbow into the woman with the camera in her mobile phone.
She approached the woman and asked her to sit beside her. As soon as a male passenger occupied the seat vacated by the woman, the man left for another carriage. She posted the pictures on the bulletin board of a portal site.
In the cases mentioned above, why did the victims remain silent while being sexually harassed on the subway, not seeking help from others?
I put this question to my wife. She said she thought it was embarrassing for her to speak out loud about the harassment she endured. At the time, it was enough for her to evade the assault. She said she did not want to go through probable trouble if she reported the case.
If she had brought the case to the metro police, they would have asked her to present herself for questioning, which many women consider to be time-consuming and embarrassing.
The Metro police should take steps to streamline its procedures to mitigate inconvenience to victims and whistleblowers.
There is also a need to increase patrols of plainclothes guards on subways. The Seoul Subway investigation unit totaled 104 staff last year, too small to patrol the 343 stations across the capital where an average 6.6 million people rode the subway each day.