I remember reading a very brief news article about spousal rape in Korea when I was doing research in field. However, I didn’t have time to reflect or write about it then.
At the time I read that article, I was initially surprised that there weren’t stronger policies or penalties for perpetrators involved in sexual assault or spousal rape. And while I knew about the violence, unequal treatment and status of women around the world, I made a mistake in assuming that an economically advanced society would have developed and implemented policies that prevent and condemn gendered violence.
Another lesson in self-awareness took place when I realized that my automatic assumptions and reaction of surprise to reality is a reflection of my own experience and perspective as a woman in the U.S. For me, it took the experience of traveling abroad and living in another culture, to realize the social and legal protection of my rights and status as a woman are something that I have taken for granted, and that many women in the world do not have their rights realized.
The news article above was posted a few days ago on Korea Joongang Daily’s website and motivated me to blog and share this with others who may not know this human rights violation is happening in Korea. Some of the statements from those opposing legislation that penalize the perpetrating spouse were unbelievable.
“In Korea, once a woman is married, she is typically considered part of a family, which then in a way makes her no longer considered a woman.”
“In family relationships, a father does not see his wife or daughters as women.”
“If we punish the ‘marital rape’ cases without considering the special nature of the relationship between a husband and a wife, it could possibly give those wives who have a bad relationship with their husband a chance to bend the rules to their favor when they file a divorce suit,”
I thought I had gained a better understanding of gender inequality in Korea, but through my experiences in field and living in Korea, had sense of hope for very slow, but gradual progress for Korean womens’ rights. But reading this recent article and learning that people still view sexual violence as acceptable in the relationship between husband and wife puts me back to a place where I feel like I still know nothing.
As much as I try to consider and understand these gender and family issues with the cultural, societal, and historical context of Korea, I can’t accept it. Furthering my understanding about the universality of human rights and cultural relativism, which I first learned about in my program, would be worth doing as I think about gender rights and human rights violations in Korea.