How have universities responded to #MeToo incidents?

Victims who report sexual crimes face barriers every step of the way

Park Ju-yeon | 기사입력 2023/05/17 [20:47]

How have universities responded to #MeToo incidents?

Victims who report sexual crimes face barriers every step of the way

Park Ju-yeon | 입력 : 2023/05/17 [20:47]

At the beginning of this year, cries of “#MeToo” began to ring out from university campuses across the country. The accused were professors, and the victims were students. Some of these incidents received a lot of attention, while others didn’t. But there’s one thing they have in common: the victims and their supporters still feel as if their cries have not been properly answered.


To address this problem, the Women’s Human Rights Institute of Korea hosted a forum entitled “After #MeToo: How Have Campuses Responded?” on Nov. 13 at the Seoul NPO Center. The event featured student speakers from Cheongju University, Pusan National University, Dongduk Women's University, and Ewha Womans University, and provided an opportunity to discuss the kinds of incidents that are happening, how universities have responded to calls to investigate them, protect victims, and punish perpetrators, and the larger effects of those responses.


Reporting centers are poorly staffed and underfunded


Students first revealed that even properly reporting an incident was difficult. They described cases in which “the advising center said they were busy and didn’t respond”, “the victim’s information was leaked during the advising process”, or “I gave up because I didn’t feel like I could trust the advisor”.


Why are victims facing difficulties even in getting advice [on how to deal with incidents] and making reports? The Korean Women’s Development Institute carried out a survey of universities nationwide and conducted interviews with victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault and their supporters, and the results of this research give us some clues.


▲ The average number of advising sessions on on-campus sexual harassment/assault conducted at universities in several regions in 2017. (Data source: “A Study of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault in Universities and Recommendations for Systematic Improvements”, Korean Women’s Development Institute) ©Ilda

Researcher Lee Mi-jeong of the Korean Women’s Development Institute (KWDI) presented the institute’s report, titled “A Study of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault in Universities and Recommendations for Systematic Improvements”, pointing out, “There are fewer advising sessions taking place on-campus than you’d think.” The 312 universities that participated in the 2017 survey on which the report is based saw an average of 5.29 individual in-person sessions, 4.04 e-mail/online sessions, 2.93 phone sessions, and 0.22 group in-person sessions.


In the case of the most popular type, individual in-person sessions, the average number was 1.01 for regular universities and 0.03 for technical schools; 18 for national universities and 2.92 for private ones; and by region, most sessions took place in Seoul. In other words, larger numbers of sessions happened at regular universities, national universities, and Seoul universities. Ms. Lee explained, “You could interpret lower numbers of advising sessions as the result of fewer incidents, but they could also reflect a lack of advising centers or an unfavorable environment for receiving advising.”


In addition, the names of the relevant on-campus bodies – “Student Counseling Center”, “Career & Personality Counseling Center”, “Student Human Rights Center”, “Sexual Violence Counseling Office”, “Gender Equality Counseling Office”, “Gender Culture Counseling Office”, etc. – are all different, which can make it difficult to understand what their exact role is.  At 44.9%, the largest amount of staff’s time is spent on student counseling and advising (advising on everyday issues, psychological counseling, and career counseling), but they also spend 18.2% of their time on education (violence prevention education, faculty training), 17.8% on administrative tasks (general paperwork, personnel management, management of student organizations), and 12.3% on student support (student welfare support, support for students with disabilities and international students). The wide variety of names given to advising centers reflects the wide range of functions they’re expected to perform.


However, only 38.8% of the staff of these centers are permanent workers. Most importantly, most universities allocate less than 5 million won (4,400 USD) per year for the centers’ sexual harassment/violence advising and reporting activities (see graph below). You can’t help but be suspicious of what and how much the centers can accomplish with such a budget. According to the KWDI’s report, staff reported “a lack of expert personnel, excessive workloads, [and] poor treatment” among the difficulties they face.


▲ Universities’ budgets for sexual harassment/sexual violence prevention and incident response. (Data source: “A Study of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Harassment in Universities and Recommendations for Systematic Improvements”, Korean Women’s Development Institute) ©Ilda

Ms. Lee argued, “The Ministry of Education needs to take a leading role in preventing sexual harassment and sexual violence.” She also recommended that, along with a suitable name, counseling centers be accorded a higher status, and that support for the protection of victims be increased. She added, “Universities must conduct surveys (on sexual violence).”


Protect victims’ “right to know”


Other problems that many students pointed out were that victims’ identities are not being properly protected and that “victims are excluded from the investigation and disciplinary process to the point where they aren’t even informed of its outcome”.


Attorney An Ji-hui (Wimin Law Firm), who assists with campus sexual assault cases through the Women’s Human Rights Institute of Korea, said that disclosure to other parties of the victim’s identifying details in the reporting and investigation process is a serious problem. She revealed, “There have been no concrete discussions of safeguards that would keep the reporting party’s identifying details secret during the disciplinary process.” Therefore, it is necessary to “amend the law so that investigations can take place without disclosing victims’ identifying details”. She also mentioned that “National Assembly member Park Ju-min proposed an amendment to the Civil Procedure Code (on Dec. 13, 2011) that would provide grounds for courts to prevent the disclosure of victims’ identifying details in civil proceedings, but it has still not been adopted”. 


Ms. An also demanded a change to conditions in which “victims’ right to participate (to testify and to be kept informed) in disciplinary processes are not protected as they are during criminal proceedings”. To this end, she argued that we must “provide legal grounds for victims of sexual harassment who report incidents to public institutions to receive legal aid and assistance with their testimony”, “add content to the State Public Officials Act and the Local Public Officials Act that stipulate that those who report sexual violence be informed of resulting disciplinary measures upon request, and enable the victim, as the major witness, to participate sufficiently in the proceedings with legal assistance and the status of a related party”.


Ms. An also shared that “from Apr. 17, 2019, the State Public Officials Act will stipulate that victims be informed of whether and what disciplinary actions are taken”. However, she pointed out two limitations: “This regulation will apply only to national universities, not private ones, and the law only requires the reporting of the results of the disciplinary process, not the process as its taking place.” This means the Private School Act will need to be amended as well, and the State Public Officials Act will need to be strengthened.


▲ Pusan National University’s Kwon Yeon-hwa and Lee Min-hui, Dongduk Women's University’s Mun Ah-yeong, MC Gwon-Kim Hyeon-yeong, Cheongju University’s Kang Yun-ji, and Ewha Womans University’s Kim-Jeong Han-kyeong at the roundtable discussion “After #MeToo: Barriers Faced on Campuses”, part of the Nov. 13 forum hosted by the Women’s Human Rights Institute of Korea.   © lda

In addition, Ms. An criticized universities for delaying the internal disciplinary process by referring matters to the police and using the claim of waiting for the outcome of the investigation as an excuse for inaction. She explained that in the government / civil servant disciplinary measures casebook, as long as reason for disciplinary action against a civil servant is recognized, such action may be taken even if a related criminal investigation is ongoing or a not-guilty verdict is reached in court. She said, “Universities can move forward with their own disciplinary processes separate from criminal proceedings.”


Student victims just want to go back to class


Lee Hyeon-suk, a representative from advocacy group Tacteen Nail, said, “We need to consider educational programs to prevent sexual harassment and sexual violence, as well as measures to improve school cultures.” She added, “Preventive education is mandatory for professors, but it is often carried out cursorily,” and, “What we need is not simple violence prevention education but integrated (comprehensive) education that comes from a gender-sensitive human rights standpoint.”


According to “A Study of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Harassment in Universities and Recommendations for Systematic Improvements”, the category of support that most victims say they want is “protection of the victim’s right to learn and academic support”. More than legal assistance or support during the investigative process, students are asking to be allowed to continue to be students. 


The students who participated in the roundtable said that investigating incidents and disciplining perpetrators is certainly important, but they emphasized, “It is important to make an environment in which the victims are protected and their right to learn is protected so that they can continue to go to school and pursue their dreams.”


▲ The types of support that university student victims of sexual harassment or assault want. (Data source: “A Study of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault in Universities and Recommendations for Systematic Improvements”, Women’s Human Rights Institute of Korea) ©Ilda

In the forum booklet, there is a piece of writing by a student victim that says, “I didn’t engage in #MeToo activism to help the school. I just didn’t want anyone else to feel the way I had. Victims can only go back to their everyday lives when the perpetrator is punished. I want to stop now and go back to my everyday life.”


The students who cried out #MeToo on campus showed great resolve and courage. They also held discussions and made recommendations for what measures should be taken. Now it is universities’ turn to respond.


Translated by Marilyn Hook

Published Nov. 23, 2018

Original article:


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