South Korea Launches Probe of Violence and Rape Culture in Sports World

Image of curling rink, Image by Sarah0s on Flickr  and Fotopedia (CC BY NC ND 2.0)

Image of curling rink by Sarah0s on Flickr and Fotopedia (CC BY NC ND 2.0)

Following the firing of South Korea's women's national curling team coach for sexual, verbal and financial abuse of team members, the country's sports ministry has launched an investigation into the sports world.

It has long been an open secret that South Korea's sports world is home to a culture of rampant violence and rape. A detailed 2009 Korean Human Rights Commission report [ko] found about 64 percent of junior players between 13 and 18 years old have experienced sexual abuse, including sexual molestation, sexual harassment and rape, by their coach or director.

Last summer, a national Judo team coach stepped down [ko] amid allegations that he touched a female player's hip area; he maintained that he had merely given her a massage.

This week, Hwasung female short-track team and their coach sued each other [ko], with players accusing the coach of needless physical contact. The coach, who failed to renew his contract because of the controversy, claimed that he was falsely accused.  

Prominent blogger Impeter wrote an in-depth post [ko] on the violence prevalent in sports:

사실 스포츠계에서 성추행 문제는 어제오늘만의 문제가 아닙니다. 지속해서 스포츠계에서는 성추행 논란이 끊이지 않고 벌어졌습니다[…]”감독이나 코치가 여자선수가 말을 잘 안들을 때는 일부러 강간을 한다는 것이다. 그래야 그 다음에 말을 잘 듣는다고 한다. 그것이 통제의 수단으로까지 활용되고 있는 말도 안되는 일까지 벌어지고 있다.” (법률 행정 교수)[…] 한국 스포츠계에서 폭력과 성범죄가 난무하는 까닭은 체벌이나 기합, 성범죄 여부에 상관없이 성적만 좋으면 된다는 사고방식이 만연해 있기 때문입니다[…]멍이 들고 코뼈가 나가고 고막이 터지도록 때리고서 고작 하는 소리가 ‘너희 성공을 위해서'라는 코치와 감독의 말은 늘 폭력을 정당화하는 이유로 인식됐습니다.

To tell you the truth, sexual harassment in the sports world has been a lingering problem, with controversies arising continuously […] One administrative law professor says, “In some cases, when a female player does not do as the coach says, he intentionally rapes her. Then, she becomes docile. Rape being used to wield control over players – such outrageous things do happen.” […] The reason why violence and sexual crimes are rampant is because everything can be pardoned once they win big no matter what, whether it be corporal punishment or sexual crimes. Beating and bruising a player, breaking their nose and rupturing their eardrum, then they come up with a lame excuse that “all this was done to [motivate them to] success”, and they think that it is a good enough justification for the physical abuse they inflicted. 

Twitter users expressed their anger and frustration against the fired coach, the Korean sports world, and some of the media coverage of the case:  

The women's national curling team fiasco. This is my two cents on it: This news made me shake with anger early this morning. I was aware of such things, but the scope of the truth has rendered me speechless and furious.

The women's curling team coach said, “It was merely friendly touching to boost camaraderie.” That is such bullshit. If the touching is unwanted on the receiving end, it is a definitely harassment. You are not the one to decide [whether it was friendly or not]. 

It has been confirmed that the women's national curling team has been abused, sexually and verbally. The matter is grave enough to land him in prison, yet it seems they want to end this by merely firing him. 

SBS [Seoul Broadcasting System, the nation's network TV], when reporting that the national curling team's sexual harassment allegations were proven to be true, reveals the faces of the victims, but blurred the coach's face. Whose human rights are more important in this country?

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