Catcalling on the rise in South Korea

Posted on : 2017-12-26 14:18 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Social media is reporting more incidents of inebriated foreigners calling suggestively to Korean women
A graphic entitled
A graphic entitled

A woman surnamed Seo, 22, was walking down the street in the Itaewon neighborhood of Seoul’s Yongsan District on Dec. 10 when a stranger suddenly commented on her looks, saying “You are so beautiful!”

The comment was made by a member of a group of inebriated foreign men. Seo smiled awkwardly and tried to walk by, but the group of men started laughing and whistling at her and followed behind her for about half a minute. This frightened Seo, and she frantically left the area.

The recent surge in foreign men harassing and catcalling females walking through the entertainment district in Itaewon has prompted calls for caution. While catcalling is a major social issue overseas, it’s little-known in South Korea, and women frequently don’t even know that they are the victims of sexual harassment.

Given the large number of social engagements in South Korea at the end of the year, more and more stories about catcalling have been posted to social media networks recently. One internet user said that “groups of men from different countries catcall in Itaewon,” while another reported being “annoyed to be catcalled by foreign men while walking past Itaewon to Noksapyeong.”

But it’s unclear how to respond to catcalling. The Punishment of Minor Offenses Act states that anyone who keeps watching or trying to contact someone against their will can be detained or fined up to 100,000 won. But it’s easy to overlook catcalling on the street, and it often goes unreported. Even when it is taken up by the police, it’s hard to prove charges of sexual harassment. “It’s extremely rare for verbal street harassment to be reported or prosecuted,” one police officer said.

In the West, efforts to crack down on catcalling are gaining momentum. In October, Marlene Schiappa, France’s Minister of Gender Equality, announced that she was preparing a bill to punish catcalling with the goal of bringing it to a vote next year. A bill banning street harassment passed Belgium’s federal parliament in 2014, and related laws have taken effect in Portugal and Peru as well.

“Along with legal sanctions, social attitudes are important, too. Society needs to share the attitude that street harassment infringes on the rights of freedom and safety, rights that everyone should be able to enjoy,” said Lee Mi-kyeong, director of the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center.

By Lim Jae-woo, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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