Remember that viral meme about North Korea v. South Korea based on Psy's hit "Gangnam Style"? Well, it looks like that meme has come true ... at least to some degree, as a South Korean presidential press secretary, Yoon Chang-jung, was dismissed amid investigations into his alleged sexual assault of a 21-year-old female intern during the President Park Geun-hye’s visit to the White House this week.
According to D.C. metropolitan police report, the victim alleged that "while inside the event location," the suspect, 56-year-old Yoon Chang-jung, "grabbed her buttocks without her permission." The Seoul-based Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that the incident took place at the W Washington hotel bar in D.C. during a drinking session with embassy staff. The Yonhap news agency in South Korea reported that the victim, a 21-year-old intern, had been hired by the embassy to help with presidential visit. President Park immediately sacked Yoon for being "involved in an unsavory incident," and for displaying "inappropriate behavior for a high-level official that was believed to hurt national dignity," according to presidential press secretary Lee Nam-ki.
Since then, the incident has gone viral in both the U.S. and South Korea. Social media sites have been filled with reactions of outrage, embarrassment, and even parody; for example, NBC's Saturday Night Live showcased a parody of this incident yesterday. The incident has also inspired a heated debate about what is considered appropriate, where lines are drawn, and who is speaking the truth. The investigation has become highly controversial due to new witness claims and the like. At the most recent press conference, Yoon vehemently claimed that he only "touched her shoulders casually," and denied "grabbing her buttock" as well as the alleged sexual assault. On the other hand, S. Korea News Daily subsequently reported that Yoon first drank with the intern and his driver, and then went for another drink at his hotel room, this time inviting only the intern. He was allegedly wearing only underwear when she showed up.
This engenders many questions and viewpoints. First, why did the intern show up at Yoon's hotel room in the first place? Did she initially "accept" Yoon’s invitation, or could she have been coerced? Some may argue that on this ground, given that she wasn't physically coerced or drugged, and given that she was competent enough to choose to drink, she must have gone of her own accord, making this a case of two consenting adults, and not a sexual assault. Sound a bit ooky? I thought so too.
Surprisingly, claims like this aren't new. Quite frequently, many contend that women or victims can be held responsible for male-committed sex crimes. As the Independent reports, this generally goes along with the idea that "what a women wears, where she goes, or what she does can make her responsible for the crime committed against her." These beliefs are often channeled into various rape jokes and media slurs that may start as a harmless repartee, but can transform into a harmful, demeaning form of sexism. Statistics show that in U.S. alone, every two minutes someone is sexually assaulted, and each year there are about 207,754 sexual assaults. What is more staggering is that 54% of sexual assaults are not reported to police, and 97% of rapists never spend a day in jail. Perhaps what we need to take away from this incident is not merely a set of opinions about who is responsible or who should take responsibility, but rather how prevalent sexual assault is. This incident should serve as a reminder that we need to improve our approach to sexual violence.