What They Said is a regular series on the quotes Korea is talking about.
On September 14, a 28-year-old subway station employee was fatally stabbed in the women’s bathroom at Sindang Station. The murderer was 31-year-old Jeon Ju-hwan, the victim’s coworker, who had been sued by the victim for stalking her for several years.
While many mourned her death and criticized the judicial system that let such a man roam free rather than detain him, some politicians made statements that sparked public outrage.
A little background information before we get into what they actually said:
In recent years, gender issues have been a major point of contention in South Korea. After the #MeToo movement came an intense backlash against women who spoke up, particularly in the political realm, as seen in the case of Kim Ji-eun who came forward about sexual assault by Ahn Hee-jung, the former governor of Chungcheongnam-do. Anti-feminism became one of the keywords that earned Lee Jun-seok, former party leader of the People Power Party, huge popularity among Korean men in their 20s and 30s who were angry about losing ground to women. Indeed, the current president, Yoon Suk Yeol, won the presidential election in part due to his anti-feminism platform. He called for the abolishment of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, claiming that it is biased against men.
Korean politicians’ gender sensitivity, or the lack thereof, has now and again made headlines after incidents of femicide or sexual assault, from the members of the Democratic Party of Korea referring to the victim of Park Won-soon, the former Seoul mayor who committed suicide when accused of sexually harrassing his personal aide, as ‘alleged victim’ (and later making public apologies), to the recent People Power Party dinner party where the guest speaker, Lee Ji-sung, made some controversial comments on changing the party’s image through young and beautiful women.
Such sentiment seems to have led Kim Hyunsook, Minister of Gender Equality and Family, to remark that the recent subway station murder was not a gender crime. In response to a reporter’s question, Kim answered:
“I don’t see it [as a gender crime]. I do not agree with seeing this incident within the frame, the dual frame of women and men. Since this is a very strong stalking and murder case, I believe that we need to seek strict enforcement of the law and ways to protect the victim in such situations.”
— Kim Hyunsook, Minister of Gender Equality and Family, September 16, 2022
Basic Income Party member Yong Hye-in expressed anger at Kim’s statement:
“Women in their 20s make up 86% of the victims of stalking crimes; in 2020, 98% of rape victims and 90% of sexual assault victims were women. In a reality where victims of stalking and sexual violence crimes are mainly women, we need to recognize structural and social gender discrimination in order to come up with proper measures to prevent crimes against women and women’s deaths. … In order to prevent such crimes, it is essential to deal with the structural cause, but the fact that [the Minister of Gender Equality and Family] is only mentioning measures such as counseling or legal support after the crime has been committed is, I believe, the same as neglecting the female victims of stalking. As the Minister of Gender Equality and Family, you have to persuade the people who are unaware of structural discrimination to pass the law for the protection of victims, but I’m not sure how you can do that.”
— Yong Hye-in, National Assembly member for the Basic Income Party, September 16, 2022
Kwon Insook, the head of the National Assembly’s Gender Equality and Family Committee, also explicitly stated that this was a gender crime:
“I went to the scene of the Sindang Station incident with lawmakers from all parties as soon as the Gender Equality and Family Committee meeting was over. At the scene of the incident, I felt so terrible and heartbroken. I pray that the deceased can rest in peace. Since the Act on Punishment, etc. of Stalking Crimes was enacted last year, there have been over 14,000 cases [of stalking] and six brutal murders revealed through the media. Of stalking victims, 67% are women, and most of these crimes are perpetrated by those in intimate relationships with them or by acquaintances. The Sindang Station incident in particular was a case of sexual violence in the workplace, but proper measures were not taken to protect the victim either offline or online. Women are still not safe either in their daily lives or at their workplaces. The Sindang Station stalking incident is a clear gender violence crime resulting from the serious violence against women that arises in friendly relationships. Had the police and the prosecution service understood the seriousness of the crime and taken proper measures when the victim reported the incident, the victim might have been saved. This incident transpired because the state did not offer her proper protection.”
— Kwon Insook, National Assembly member for the Democratic Party of Korea and the head of the National Assembly’s Gender Equality and Family Committee, September 16, 2022
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party also ended up taking disciplinary action against a member who made a controversial statement about the murder case while discussing Seoul’s mental health program:
“It was the coworker who committed this crime. He stalked her and took pictures of her without her knowing. It seems that he liked her but she didn’t accept his feelings, so the male coworker responded violently to her rejection. [The man who committed the crime] is a 31-year-old man. He is a Seoul citizen, who must have worked diligently and studied hard to get a job at Seoul Metro. And I’m sure the same goes for the victim. It is a truly regrettable incident. For us to work in a safe and healthy environment, our physical and mental muscles have to be developed in a balanced way. And it is important for us to show interest and make efforts toward this from a young age. Imagine what the parents of the victim and the perpetrator must be feeling. My son starts his mandatory military service next Monday. I cannot even fathom what the fathers are feeling, they must be feeling like their world is falling apart.”
— Lee Sanghoon, Seoul Metropolitan Council member for the Democratic Party of Korea, 16 September, 2022