Itaewon is Seoul’s most popular neighborhood, known for its nightlife and diverse set of restaurants, clubs and bars. No other place in Seoul, let alone South Korea celebrates Halloween as hard as this place; however, Halloween in South Korea will never be the same again after the tragic accident that happened on Oct. 30, where a stampede broke out in the streets following a crowd surge. According to the current national statistics, at least 156 people died from the crowd crush, including two American college students. Another 172 were injured. Most of the victims were in their 20s.
When I first learned about the tragedy, I was shocked to see that the mass number of deaths was not caused by a fire or a collapsed building, but because too many people were trying to get through a narrow alley. The thought of my friends being in fatal danger at their favorite place to hang out was haunting to me. It was terrifying how easy it is to get involved in this kind of accident.
However, what I noticed is that many people were reacting to this tragedy with victim-blaming. Some argue that the victims should not have gone to crowded events in the first place. Some comments written by older generations were even worse, saying that the accident wouldn’t have happened if the younger generation wasn’t making a fuss about celebrating a Western holiday. I even found myself feeling relieved that I was deterred by crowds and thus wouldn’t have even gone near Seoul during Halloween. Why do we react in such an inconsiderate way after hearing tragic news?
I’ve observed that we tend to victim-blame due to an instinctive fear of the tragedy occurring to us, and want to distance ourselves from that possibility. Thus, we conclude that those who died or got severely injured were simply not careful or “smart” enough, and could have avoided the situation if they had thought twice. These thoughts help bring peace to our minds and reassure us that we don’t need to fear unfortunate events happening to us; however, we must understand that these thoughts can also be an act of secondary harm to the victims — rubbing salt in the wound.
We have a habit of denying that tragedy can happen to anyone. Whether natural or human-caused, disasters can happen anywhere and at any time. There is no guarantee that my close family, friends and I will make it through today. Most of the time, we are just lucky to be alive in this world. We might hear stories of people who were lucky enough to survive and people who somehow avoided a disaster at the last minute because of a family emergency or a change of plans. The reason why those people were not harmed is not that they were careful and aware of what might happen shortly — again, they were just extremely lucky. Therefore, instead of blaming the victims, we should focus on consoling them. Most importantly, authorities must find ways to prevent this kind of accident in the future and set restrictions on massive crowds. Whether by increasing the police and security around crowded places or amending the law against people pushing through crowds intentionally, the South Korean government and police should take responsibility and be better prepared in the future to ensure that this tragedy never happens again.