On the 12th of December in 2012, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of South Korea reported the findings from a survey conducted in 280 schools regarding cases of sexual harassment and assault within universities. The verdict was that from 168 cases in 2009 to 336 in 2011, the number of cases has exactly doubled and continues to be on the rise. In Yonsei University, such cases have also risen in number in recent years. Last year alone, 46 cases of sexual harassment and assault were reported to the Yonsei Gender Equity Center (YGEC). The existence of this center, which functions as the official counseling center for all students and faculty in the Sinchon campus, demonstrates that Yonsei is not completely lacking in welfare services regarding sexual abuse. In fact, it belongs to the mere 7.5% of universities in Korea that employs professional staff for counseling in the area of sexual harassment. Nevertheless, four cases of sexual misconduct have already been acknowledged at our school despite the semester having only just begun. This highlights the severity of the issue on campus.
The current system and recent change
Yonsei currently employs several methods for handling cases of sexual harassment and assault. These have recently experienced several modifications in light of the school’s decision to further address these issues on campus. Crucial is the Countermeasure Committee (CC), a board made up of professors, students, labor workers, and staff that handles the aftermath of sexual abuse cases and decides on the legitimacy of accusations that are made against supposed perpetrators. According to the severity of the offense and the victim’s wishes, this board also issues appropriate punishments to the aforementioned, some of which have included expulsion, suspension for four to five years (while the victim is attending school), and assignment of community service and mandatory education courses. Until last year, victims needed to acquire the approval of two-thirds of the board members in order to officially recognize their cases as having happened. Now, only half the members’ approval is necessary for ratification. This change has occurred to acknowledge the difficulties of group decision-making as demonstrated by the incident last December in which a student attempted three times in vain to appeal a verdict made by the board.
Another medium through which the school has been addressing sexual misbehavior is the YGEC, which serves several functions. Its main role is to provide psycho-physiological treatment for victims. However, it also behaves as the intermediary through which people can report cases and seek amends. It is when the incident is more severe in nature or at the request of a victim that a case is reviewed by the CC (although most cases are usually settled through the YGEC). This center has also undergone several changes. Previously called the Counseling Center for Sexual Harassment and Assault, it is now the Yonsei Gender Equity Center and has moved to the Widang Hall under the Office of Student Welfare & Services, separating from the Student Union Hall in which it had occupied a small room. This move by the school can be interpreted as an act of acknowledgement of the center’s place on campus by giving it its own building, highlighting its necessity and importance, in an effort to begin properly to address this problem.
In addition, independent organizations and student bodies such as the Female Student’s Union (FSU) have also been involved. The FSU has petitioned for changes by intervening as the student voice when needed, and has served as the mediator between the board and the victims. It has also acted as educators on unwanted sexual conduct during orientations and Pre-frosh to students.
Lack of funding
Despite all the progress Yonsei and student groups have made regarding sexual misdemeanors, they have yet to scratch beyond the surface. The main problem that has persisted and will continue to persist unless the school takes action is the lack of funding and personnel for the CGE. Compared to Sogang University which employs two professional counselors who specialize in the field of psychological treatment and studies for sexual offence in its counseling center, Yonsei has just one. Considering the number of students enrolled in each university, 28,148 in Yonsei as of October 2011 and 11,964 in Sogang as of January 2012 (almost three times as much), this is a significant difference. According to Roh Ju-hee (Counselor & Advisor, YGEC), 364 treatments and consultations were needed for the 46 cases last year, which is nearly one visit per day every day for a whole year including weekends and holidays. “The lack of staff and counselors, when considering the psychological attention and care that victims need, is detrimental to the quality that our center can provide for each treatment,” said Roh. Furthermore, considering the fact that the YGEC not only provides counseling for students, but also for professors, staff, researchers, and basically everyone within the university, one counselor is evidently not enough. The model that Yonsei could adopt to accommodate the needs of sexually abused victims on campus would be the Sexual Harassment Officers and Resources in Harvard University. In this model, at least one specialist is proportionally allotted to each department for undergraduates, graduates, faculty and postdoctoral fellows, staff, the Division of Continuing Education consisting of eight university divisions, as well as five independent student groups and hotlines.
Residential college in the Yonsei International Campus
The school must also address the lack of facilities in the International Campus. Although the Yonsei International Campus (YIC) does have a counseling center which provides basic medical care, a separate center much like YGEC that specializes in counseling for sexual harassment and assault is a current necessity that is being disregarded. “Especially in a residential setting such as this, a center for sexual abuse victims is crucial. None of us knows what goes on behind closed doors in dormitories. We must be prepared to prevent cases of sexual harassment and assault from ever occurring, but also be ready to accommodate the needs of people should such incidents ever arise,” said Roh. According to Roh, because such institutions were not available in the YIC, several students had to travel to Sinchon after office hours to receive proper care. Lee Ji-hye, a counselor for the YIC Counseling Center (YCC) which administers to general health concerns of students also claimed that two cases of sexual harassment and assault were reported to the YCC last year but could not be given the appropriate help and thus consulted with Roh at the main campus.
Additionally, the residential advisors (RA) at the YIC who advise students and act as the overseers of their residential lifestyle must be educated on sexual abuse and on how to deal with such cases if they should ever occur. An RA who chose to remain anonymous claimed, “We received a lecture on counseling for a slot during our RA Education training week but it did not really register well with us because we were exhausted from the six hours of orientation. Also, it covered all the general methods of counseling students in a condensed presentation that did not really delve deep into the issue of sexual harassment and assault.” This problem must be resolved as soon as possible as the number of YIC students is to rise each year and create more likelihood of sexual abuse becoming an issue within the campus.
Education & understanding, awareness & openness
In addition to the lack of funding and support of the YGEC by the school, a lack of awareness regarding the YGEC and the issues surrounding sexual harassment and assault prevails as another problem within Yonsei. “Because many people do not know about the existence of the YGEC, where it is located, or that there is even a reliable fighting force against sexual abuse within campus, they do not know that the YGEC can act on behalf of them to request help or seek reparations from perpetrators,” said Yoon So-young (President, FSU). Roh has also claimed that because many people are ignorant of what constitutes sexual harassment and assault or that it even happens at our school, people tend to keep incidents to themselves or resort to their own methods of seeking compensation, such as by contacting the police. However, Roh claims that YGEC is a reliable mode of soliciting penance. The adoption of an open policy that would disclose the cases that occur at Yonsei to the student body (while maintaining the privacy of those involved), much like the one recently introduced to Sogang University, would allow many students to be able to trust in the system and in the CC and be able to entrust their own stories of abuse to counselors.
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Although it can be perceived that it is the responsibility of the YGEC, FSU, and Yonsei to establish these changes, there are ways we can all take part in achieving social change. We must change the cultural context to be able to openly discuss and seek solutions to the problems of sexual abuse. It is in the best interest of everyone and the whole of society that we consider the well-being of others, and thus we must ask that information be shared amongst everyone regarding what happens behind closed doors.