South Korea’s failing sex education

(Emmanuel DYAN/Flickr Creative Commons)

Just last year, South Korea was shaken by the stabbing of a young woman in a Seoul subway station and a gang rape of a teacher soon after. These events spurred debate about the status of women in South Korea, a problem that still begs for attention. Despite being a very modern country, South Korea has a lot of catching up to do as far as gender equality. They have one of the worst wage gaps between genders among developed nations, receiving a spot low down on the list of countries ranked by gender equality.

Sexual assault cases are on the rise in South Korea, but these reported numbers most likely only reflect one tenth of sexual assault cases. Many victims feel like they do not know who to turn to after the assault and are often embarrassed by their trauma. These unreported cases were brought to attention through the #metoo movement to speak out about being sexually assaulted, which gained ground this October. Quickly, over 1.7 million victims had tweeted out about their experience, giving the world insight into the magnitude of this issue. Among the 85 countries who participated, South Korean citizens were quick to identify.

This gender inequality and sexual harassment prevalence is unsurprising considering how the public education system handles sexual assault and harassment. In 2015, Korea’s Education Ministry released new, updated sex education guidelines for public schools. These guidelines were rampant with victim blaming, such as listing women not paying meals as a possible causation of date rape. The curriculum is teaching young students that they can cause their rape, so victims feel ashamed and uncomfortable making them less likely to come forward about their assault.

Listed as a suggestion for how to respond to harassment are equally unhelpful and ridiculous sentiments including, “step on his foot as if by mistake”. Where does it say to alert a parent, teacher or officer of such an offense? The education system should at least provide the students with some sort of method to protect themselves, so they are not uselessly stepping on the foot of their assaulter to get them to stop. The only message this is sending to students is that they are helpless. The teacher’s manual also includes a declaration that “male sexual desire can arise quickly on impulse, regardless of time and place.” This statement gives sexual assault offenders an excuse for their behavior. All this curriculum is doing for students is trying to justify sexual assault offenders and blame victims, roles that are unfortunately seen in many societies and need to be reversed.

These statements are also very stereotyped, referring to specific genders when talking about victims and offenders - let’s not forget that rape occurs to both males and females. This sex education curriculum is also highly exclusive,  not only failing to mention homosexuality but explicitly telling teachers they are not allowed to discuss it. In a survey about social needs of sexual minorities by the Law and Policy Research Group for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, almost 50 percent of the participants under the age of 18 had responded that they had attempted suicide after being bullied for their sexual orientation. This suggests that minorities and bullying victims have nowhere to turn for support within the education system.
Unfortunately these dangerous and sexist guidelines are still being used in schools today despite many complaints. Even under the new, progressive leadership of Moon Jei-in, who promises to speak to North Korea, promote gender equality and address social inequalities,  this document was still passed by the Education Ministry to be used again in schools.

If South Korea wants to become a stronger and more inclusive society, then it must address the stereotypes and inequalities within its schools curriculum. They need a more informative and supportive education system that acknowledges the real problems within society and gives students the support systems they need to help them cope with those problems.


Samantha Pierce is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at samantha.pierce@uconn.edu.