|At the King Sejeong Museum by Seoul City Hall. Usually these things happen to me when I'm away from home.|
That night, about three weeks ago, I was walking to my apartment with two coworkers, both of whom had decided to do some evening shopping at the local food mart. I was only a block away and didn't need anything, so I continued on to our street.
As I turned the corner, I walked by several drunk men in their late twenties or early thirties. One of them called out "Helllo! Helllo!" I ignored him and kept walking.
When I was just a few steps from my apartment building, I realize that one of these men is following me. I had already felt exhausted from a long day's work, so I became frustrated. Thinking that he would probably go away, I walked by my building and into a convenience store. I come out and he's magically reemerges. I walk to the food mart. He ducks around the corner and waits for me to come out.
I didn't want this man to see where I lived, nor did I want him to catch me in a secluded area. Very bad things have happened to women in these situations, so I try to be careful and do my best to keep aware of what's going on around me.
That man followed me as I kept walking around the block and eventually he got tired, instead asking me for my phone number. I shook my head and circled the block again. I had finally made it to my apartment safely. I have been followed, groped, violated and flashed before in Korea, but this was different. None of these things had happened so close to home. And that was the scary part.
Most of the time, Korea is seen as this ultra-safe, ideal place with very little crime. Yes, the crime rate is lower than it is where I'm from. However, it's a big mistake to assume that nothing bad happens. Or that it somehow can't happen to me. One of my friends in Korea had a coworker who was followed by a local man to her apartment building, was cornered in the stairwell and raped. Subsequently, the young woman's workplace gave her a hard time about it. There's also the woman who was raped by her boss. I also remember the story about the English teacher that was murdered in Japan, and I think that it could easily happen here. Similar crimes have happened. And both of those places are nearby.
Violence against women, local and foreign, is common. Another thing I must recognize is that I am foreign. I also don't speak the language well. That makes getting help, such as calling the police, difficult and time-consuming at best.
I know that it takes a while to call the authorities, and getting them to care or help me is another thing altogether. From all the stories that I have heard over the years, it seems that people just don't care about things like rape, unless a foreign man rapes a Korean woman. In that case, it's a big deal. Otherwise, not so much.
That's why I need to keep my guard up.