Stop the Shameful Sexual Harassment of Foreigners

  • By Chosun Ilbo columnist Shin Hyo-seop

    June 28, 2007 06:10

    Shin Hyo-seop

    Back in 2000, the Yomiuri Shimbun of Japan rejected a request from a certain weekly publication, famous for its photos of nude women, to place an ad in the daily newspaper. The Yomiuri said publishing the ad would violate the public nature of a newspaper with a nationwide circulation. The newspaper's decision was motivated in part by an article contributed earlier by an American student in Japan. She wrote, "On the subway on their way back home, Japanese men don't hesitate to open and read magazines with nude photos in the presence of women like myself. I feel as if I'm being sexually harassed."

    Foreign English teachers working in Korea often give advice to newcomers, like not getting upset if a Korean asks your age the first time you're introduced, because that's a Korean custom. Another piece of advice warns against jumping to false conclusions if a Korean asks you, "Are you a virgin?" It's probably not sexual harassment -- some Koreans who don't have the best command of English say that when they mean, "Are you married?"

    In 1980 a Korean-American woman working as a librarian in San Francisco was asked several times by her superior to have sex with him. When she refused, the superior rained sexual insults and abusive language on her. She was so stressed out that her kidneys stopped working and she had to use dialysis three times a week. Local women and human rights groups rose up to denounce the situation, calling it a clear case of ethnic discrimination committed in contempt of an Asian woman who was dependent on the U.S. The woman won the suit in trial.

    A few days ago in a TV talk show about their lives in Korea, several young foreign women recounted experiences of sexual harassment here. A Japanese student told of how a Korean college professor made a disparaging remark against Japanese women and promised her good grades in return for sex. A German woman revealed that the president of her tutoring school called her into his office and kissed her, and a Canadian woman said a cab driver propositioned her and implied that Western women are promiscuous. The university where the Japanese student was enrolled ended up sacking the offending lecturer.

    In a survey conducted by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea in 2003, 12.5 percent of foreign women workers, mainly from Southeast Asia, said they had been sexually harassed by Korean superiors or colleagues. An official with the office of sexual harassment prevention and resolution at a women's university said that as the number of foreign students at the university increased, so too did the need for counseling rise. Foreigners are sensitive to local people's culture, and their different views of, and curiosity about, sex. It is a shameful act of violence when a Korean takes advantage of his position and makes a lustful pass at a foreign woman.

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