Ensure the Right to Guidance, Not Domination
Sports, theater, and education after #MeToo
※Editor’s note: Using sexual assault victims’ “livelihood” and “survival” as keywords, we are publishing a series of articles titled “Between Victimization and One’s Livelihood” that examine the structure of sexual violence. From May to October, The Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center is hosting the monthly “Between Victimization and One’s Livelihood” discussion series, an opportunity to listen to survivors of sexual violence and seek solutions.
The year 2018 saw the #MeToo movement heat up across cultural arenas: from Yoon-Taek Lee—artistic director of the now-dissolved Theatre Troupe Georipae —whose sexual assaults ushered #MeToo into the theater world, to speed skating coach Jae-Beom Cho’s sexual assault case, to Dongduk Women’s University Creative Writing professor H’s harassment of students and denigration of the #MeToo movement, to the eruption of the School #MeToo demonstrations.
In each of these cases, the sexual violence was committed by someone whose role was to guide and instruct those they harmed. The perpetrators wielded enormous power and dominated their victims in the name of educational guidance. Victims were deprived of the right to learn in a safe environment, their dreams and futures put in jeopardy.
On June 20, the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center hosted the second of its monthly discussion series titled “Between Victimization and One’s Livelihood,” held at the center’s Yi Angela Hall . June’s discussion focused on “The Right to Guidance, not Domination,” pointing out the power structures that allow sexual violence to take place at the sites of education and instruction—including theater, sports, and the classroom—and the conditions that make it difficult for victims to come forward, and envisioning an environment where one can learn and train without fear of gender discrimination or harassment.
Training for sports: the coach like a father with everything in his grip
Eun-Joo Ham, executive committee member of Cultural Action, described the structure of sexual violence in the sports world and explained the system for special athletic education. This is a program to promote national prestige by developing elite athletes through focused training from a young age, “pursuing sports exclusively and teaching to succeed through sports.” The program for special athletic education is the backbone of Korea’s elite physical training.
Ms. Ham said, “The training of athletes through what is called elite physical education centers around schools. Under this system for special athletic education, the government has created an environment in which it’s okay if all you do is sports training, so that up to 180 days a year of absence from school is acceptable.”
The competition is so fierce that to succeed as an elite player, many start training at the age of six or seven, with their fate being determined in their early teens. Athletes end up spending time only with coaches from an early age, with little exposure to different environments or contact with others.
In this way, Ms. Ham said, “it’s natural for grooming (the psychological taming of children and adolescents in order to gradually develop sexual relationships with them) to take place from early on. The people they see every day at practice become a like family.”
The authority of the coach, as “a sort of father and the only adult leader,” is immense, Ms. Ham explained. Players are assigned to schools or their acceptance is decided on based on athletic ability and performance, but the coaches’ network is also at work here. “Who’s your kid,” “Take mine,” and so on. The coach even controls the players’ ability to participate in athletic matches. Under such circumstances, sexual abuse is easily covered up.
Ms. Ham explained, “Everything is controlled to create the optimal conditions for good performance. Abuse often occurs under the guise of training, stretching, or massage. If you indicate some discomfort, you’re told that your weak feminine side is showing through and to act more professional. Since the relationship has become so family-like, sexual abuse can resemble that between a parent and child, making it difficult for athletes to recognize that it is abuse or—even if they do—to say anything.”
Ms. Ham also pointed out how the difficulty of entering other fields of work after quitting a sport plays into athletes’ reluctance to report sexual violence. At the same time, she explained, due to the notion that the sports world is “special,” should an issue gain public concern, people pay attention early on and then quickly forget about it. However, she stressed that the structures in which sexual abuse takes place and its causes are the same in the sports world as they are elsewhere.
The theater’s apprenticeship system: working under the thumb of directors
Power operates no differently in the art and theater world. Soo-Hee Kim, leader of the “Beauty” theater troupe, determined the main cause of sexual violence in the theater industry to be “the apprentice style training of finding a teacher and becoming their devoted disciple.”
Ms. Kim said, “The power of the art and stage directors is absolute. With the director casting the roles, actors end up doing whatever they can to keep their spot on stage, even if it what they’re asked to do seems out of line. When the director decides something, the senior members lead those below them, and the atmosphere is often chilly to dissent.”
Finding another teacher in the apprenticeship system is considered an act of betrayal. Additionally, in the case an actor leaves a theater company, moving to another is not easy. A handful of self-important directors have a firm grip on the Korean stage and their network exerts absolute control.
Ms. Kim explained that even if you leave the company, it is not easy to escape the influence of the director. She shared an example of an actor with a famous troupe who went to audition for a play. The actor’s former theater director was on the panel and screamed at the actor, “What are you doing here? Get out!” Even in this case, no one in the room apparently took issue.Because it is difficult for victims to change theater companies or continue working without one, many end up shifting genres or quitting acting altogether. But even the former of these choices is hazardous. One’s image is crucial in the acting profession, and “the image of being a sexual assault victim will follow me for the rest of my life no matter what kind of acting (in other media) I do.”
The theater’s unsteady financial footing as well as the nature of theater as a collaborative, not individual, art are two additional elements in the theater’s covering up of sexual abuse.
Ms. Kim said, “Though it’s not the end of the world if you quit, it does mean the undoing of all that you’ve worked to prepare with your colleagues. In the case that we received funding due to financial difficulties, we will only receive it again next year if the production goes forward without a hitch. If you bring up an issue with higher-ups who are putting the play onstage, the production itself is halted. That’s why fellow actors may also try to persuade victims. ‘Can’t you wait ‘til the run is over to say something?’”
What’s heard following the School #MeToo protests : “Do you want to be a victim or go to college?”
Ji-Hye Yang, an activist for Teen Feminist Network “WeTee,” said that since the School #MeToo movement began, “I’ve heard a lot of people say that teachers just had a slip of the tongue and that we’re threatening their survival.”
The classic model of a teacher who aims to nurture students into well-rounded people can bring to mind the “love stick” [which teachers used to carry around to threaten physical discipline] and other forms of violence. Countless incidents of sexual assault and harassment are taking place in the name of “educational guidance,” but teachers remain unconcerned. Ms. Yang emphasized “this is not a case of ‘a few teachers who turn out to be monsters.’”
She argued that, on the contrary, “we see that sexual violence is inevitable in a power structure where schools routinely control girls’ bodies. Uniform rules can dictate not only the length of girls’ skirts and dress shirts, but even their sock color and permissible underwear. As students grow accustomed to the constant intrusion into their privacy, it can be difficult to recognize sexual violence when they experience it.”
Ms. Yang also observed that the point where most accusations of sexual violence are cut short is the requirement of “parental consent”:
“Parental consent is requested in both a police investigation and a complaint to a school’s violence countermeasure committee, but victims are most afraid of telling their parents. And not only are many unable to find support from their parents, they also face a choice between ‘remain victims’ or ‘go to college,’ and are pressured toward the latter.”
Another reason that it is difficult for victims to come forward is that the official reporting and counseling systems both in- and outside of schools do not protect victims carefully and thoroughly enough for students to feel safe. For example, in this School #MeToo incident as well, during the investigation police handed a list of accusers’ names over to the school’s principal.
Ms. Yang concluded, “In such an environment, victims (rather than following official procedure) resort to social media as a means to expose abusers, but in one case the secretary of a school’s violence countermeasure committee threatened that if the victim made ‘one more posting on social media, we’ll take disciplinary action.’”
Sexual violence by professors: action by school put on hold to “await the results of the trial”
Ah-Young Moon, chair of the emergency committee on Dongduk Women’s University Professor H’s case, said that even before this incident, “in 2016 a professor of French language had made remarks such as, ‘Women should have a baby before turning 30—get a rich older boyfriend and ride around in his car,’ and someone put up posters bringing these comments to light.”
Ms. Moon explained, “In the case of such a poster display, the school authorities should come forward and deal with it, but it isn’t taken seriously unless the alleged sexual violence is severe. It’s this culture that led to the incident of Professor H. And once again, the school should have set up a place for students to talk about the sexual violence they experienced, but they didn’t even hold a meeting to prevent a recurrence.”
The university’s lukewarm response is the same in punishing perpetrators. The assailant was indicted without physical detention and even though there were ample grounds for the school to take its own disciplinary action, it suspended the fact-finding committee, saying it would wait for the outcome of the trial. At this rate, should individual students just figure out which professors to avoid?
Ms. Moon continued, “People ask why we don’t just not take the class of that kind of professor (one who makes sexually discriminatory remarks). But often it isn’t until the middle of the semester that you find out a professor is that kind of person, and if you make an issue at that point, you worry what sort of grade this powerful professor is going to give you, whether you’ll receive credits.”
How long must we wait as we watch perpetrators make easy comebacks?
The discussion’s four panel members all pointed to “the fact that the perpetrators so readily return to their workplaces” as a reason why exposing sexual violence is challenging.
Soo-Hee Kim, the leader of the “Beauty” theater troupe, faulted the tendency toward “moral indulgence for artists.” She said, “Even now, your colleagues will openly say, ‘Why are you complaining about something this trivial? I mean, his work is great,’” and then added that “even if the guy does time and is released from prison, after that he is free of sanction,” a discouraging reality for the victim.
Eun-Joo Ham, executive committee member of Cultural Action, brought up cases in which “a person disciplined in the Korean Sport & Olympic Committee is now working as a leader at the Korea Paralympic Committee, and that someone who was expelled from basketball or ice sports just moved to a different country and is living well as a coach there.”
Professor H is a reputable novelist who said in a press interview that he will continue to write novels and plans to find a teaching post at a foreign university. “Even as we are in the middle of his trial, Professor H is nonetheless working to expand his scope into painting and resume his career as a writer,” explained Ah-Young Moon, chair of the emergency committee on the Professor H case at Dongduk Women’s University.
Ji-Hye Yang, activist for “WeTee,” Teen Feminist Network, said that “perpetrators often come back to work at the schools, but students are in the dark as to whether these teachers faced proper consequences or received any re-education training.” The Office of Education cites the perpetrators’ privacy as reason they cannot not disclose information regarding disciplinary actions. If a disciplinary process is turned over to the Office of Education, the victims are under no circumstances allowed to be involved. Ms. Yang noted one takeaway from the current case is that “with sexual violence in schools being strictly handled through this disciplinary procedure, the potential for public forum on sexual assault and harassment is diminished.”
The government and Ministry of Education must find a better way
The discussion also provided an opportunity to advance a variety of strategies to eradicate sexual violence in these fields of education and training.
Ms. Yang argued that we should not be relying on the victims’ courage, but rather that the government or Ministry of Education should step forward to directly investigate this issue in schools. The Ministry shouldn’t be asking, “How can we investigate so many schools?” but instead should be aggressively pursuing gender equality in their schools through the collection of necessary data. In addition, she urged for the enactment of a set of human rights laws for students in order for students to stop being the objects of unilateral control and develop a relationships with the operation of schools in which they are interested and have some responsibility.
To make sexual harassment prevention education for faculty more effective, Ah-Young Moon suggested students should be able to check whether instructors have received gender sensitivity training, and that this should be under the direct supervision of the Ministry of Education. In addition, together with the present school sexual harassment provisions, she stressed the importance of protecting the “the victim’s right to study.”
Soo-Hee Kim explained, “Since MeToo, the theater industry has been building the KTS (Korean Theater Standards, Code of Conduct for Performing Arts in Korea) based on the U.S.’s ‘Chicago Theatre Standard’ (CTS, an independent set of regulations made by actors and theater officials in Chicago to ensure safe and equal working conditions).”
She highlighted that in order to prevent abuse, “everyone must agree that being asked to rehearse until the director is satisfied—often under the guise of ‘improvisation’–whether in the practice room, rehearsal room, dressing room, or during performances, is not tolerated.” She also explained that in an effort to encourage more equitable relationships, she is working to change the practice of only using respectful terms of address for directors and writers.
“In fact, there has been a sexual violence reporting system within the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee for a long time,” Eun-Joo Ham pointed out. “However, it is difficult for the system to work properly under the current structure of ‘self-punishment and self-correction,’” she said, and argued . “we need independent bodies such as athlete rights organizations and investigation centers.”
Published: July 7, 2019
Translated by Taylor Kennedy
Original article: http://ildaro.com/8502
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