One rape victim every 23 minutes.
South Korea has undergone an astonishing economic turnaround, with GDP per capita rising from USD 3,000 to almost USD 30,000 in just over three decades, a situation that can be attributed to the intense focus on economic growth by government and society. But such growth has not come without side effects, such as Korea’s increasingly flagrant social and economic inequality. For example, Korea was shamefully ranked 117th among 142 countries surveyed in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2014. In the zeal for prosperity, sex, too, has all too easily been commercialized, a situation which has worsened sexual ignorance and led to increased violence against women and children, as evidenced in the rises in the number of rape victims among these two groups. Specifically, in 2013 alone, 22,932 cases of sexual assault against women were reported in Korea: that means 63 women per day—or one woman every 23 minutes—were sexually assaulted. Seoul was the location for 6,064 of these sexual assault crimes last year, thus being marked as the Korean city with the greatest number of sexual assault cases reported.
Patriarchal society limits reporting to a meager 1.1 percent of actual victims.
The number of sexual assault cases reported to police and other authorities has seen a 70 percent yearly increase, with at least 1,300 more cases reported each year over the last 5 years. Korea men, by tradition, have always been accorded a superior status, while women are taught to be passive and ashamed regarding matters of sex. In other words, men have typically been seen as the subjects of sex, and women as objects, who, if they are raped, “invited” such shame upon themselves. Such erroneous ideas have left their mark on modern society: only 1.1 percent of rape victims ever report the crime to police. Our hectic and alienating modern culture, moreover, fosters turning a blind eye to such crimes. In April 2012, a young woman continually cried out for help while she was being kidnapped by an armed man right in her own neighborhood. Her neighbors, nevertheless, ignored her cries, and she was later found raped and murdered. Although the government continues to announce policies against sex crimes, most new measures focus on the aftermath of rape, such as punishment of offenders through chemical castration, rather than addressing the fundamental roots of the problem.
Need for a preventive approach to sexual violence, based on a gender perspective.
A 2010 survey conducted with women living in Seoul revealed that one out of every two women feared they might become a victim of sexual assault. Policymakers need to act urgently and adopt preventive and proactive approaches to this problem, instilling in people gender ethics and developing a social security network based on a gender perspective. National and local governments must be committed to promoting respect for the rights of women and children, and must be proactive in increasing people’s sensitivity to violence with a view to creating a safer society for all.
The plan to combat sexual violence has its root in opinions expressed by citizens themselves during the “Policy Workshop on Tour.” The plan addresses the harsh realities still facing the vast majority of Korean women who on a daily basis live in fear of molestation on public transportation, sexual harassment from male colleagues, and assault while walking down the street at night. Until now, campaigning against sexual violence has mostly been under the exclusive purview of women’s organizations and groups. With the new policy, however, Seoul City manifested its resolve to approach sexual violence from a policymaking perspective, with assistance from women’s organizations, citizens, and experts.
First, Seoul recognized the need to regard sexual violence as a social issue, requiring a comprehensive preventive policy devised based on thorough statistical analyses and field research.
Sexual violence is not just a trauma suffered by individual victims; rather, it is an issue that affects the whole of society. Seoul City, therefore, shifted the focus from reinforcing punishments for offenders, a shortsighted approach, to creating public awareness and prevention campaigns that centered on raising societal sensitivity to human rights (especially victims’ rights), a broader approach that carries with it greater long-term impact. Research—both statistical and field—informed the initiative. On the statistical side, sexual crime data collected over the last 3 years were thoroughly analyzed (e.g. the times and locations of crimes, and the victims’ ages and relations to offenders); while on the field side, in-depth interviews were conducted with 130 victims and Town Hall meetings organized for opinion-gathering purposes. The resulting sexual violence prevention plan involved three phases: 1) development of educational programs and campaigns for all ages and groups to raise societal sensitivity to human rights issues; 2) creation of environmental, human, and transportation networks with a view to making the entire city safer for women; and 3) establishment of a one-stop system through which victims can report crimes and receive protection.
Second, Seoul established citizen-led human networks of safety for women to prevent even the most invisible forms of violence.
Korea’s rapid economic growth and prosperity has, unfortunately, not affected all the same way, leaving many to face the despair of poverty and marginalization. Seoul City, aware of this inequality and in attempt to confront it, adopted a crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) approach to urban planning across the city with the hope of reducing violence and sex crimes in particularly vulnerable areas. Though this added dimension of consideration in the physical spaces of neighborhoods certainly progresses the cause, it is not enough on its own to prevent assaults against women. Thus the city launched a complementary program focused on establishing “human networks” for women’s safety, called the “Safer Neighborhoods for Women Program,” which encourages people to take interest in possible domestic violence and abuse happening in their neighborhoods, and make more concerted efforts to keep women and children safe. Seoul is the first city in Korea to launch a program of this kind, in which local organizations and citizens themselves are heavily involved. By helping locals become better guardians of safety for their neighbors and enlisting human input in the cause, Seoul City has lowered rates of violence against women to an extent it could not have just using surveillance cameras alone.
Creativity and Innovation
A paradigm shift, from an aftermath-focused approach to a preventive approach.
Government policies on violence against women were focused on punishing offenders and providing support for victims. This aftermath-focused approach had the effect of further stigmatizing women as actual and potential victims. A new approach centered on prevention was needed—one which safeguarded women’s autonomy and dignity, and promoted respect for women’s rights.
First participatory policy against sexual violence in Korea.
From this new preventive approach grew the Safer Neighborhoods for Women Program, through which individual neighborhoods develop safety measures tailored to the needs of their communities and the city provides financial and other types of support for implementation of such measures. This program represents a radical turn to grassroots civic participation in municipal policymaking, and Seoul City continues to reflect citizen’s demands in its safety policies. The establishment of the Safe Company Service, where women returning home late at night can be accompanied by a volunteer charged with ensuring her safety, is a citizen demand met through government action. Such innovations were made possible due to the strong partnership between citizens and the government and the embracing of a gender-based approach to the issue of violence against women.
Execution and Implementation
Gathering viewpoints on women’s safety (December 2012 – February 2013).
Seoul organized several Town Hall meetings on the question of how to make Seoul safer for women. The meetings helped the city identify the issues at stake through open dialogue with the public. A number of Policy Workshops on Tour were held in January and February of 2013 as well, with government officials making visits to women in various locales to collect ideas on how to more effectively prevent sex crimes and violence against women.
Analyses of sex crimes and in-depth interviews with victims (December 2012 onward).
Seoul undertook pattern analyses on sexual crime data gathered over the past 3 years (from 2012), in partnership with the Seoul Metropolitan Policy Agency (SMPA) and four support centers for victims of sex crimes. The goal was to identify patterns in the locations, times, victims, and victim-offender relations of these cases. As well, interviews were held with 130 victims in Seoul in partnership with Ewha Women’s University, the information from which informed Seoul’s sexual violence prevention policy.
Joint task force with the SMPA (December 2012 – February 2013).
Police cooperation is crucial for the prevention of violence against women. Seoul thus assembled a joint task force with SMPA members, which held numerous meetings to discuss the measures needed for expedited investigation and early response.
Announcement of the Comprehensive Plan for the Prevention of Sexual Violence (CPPSV) (March 2013).
The policy draft, which reflected the results of field research as well as expert opinion and was presided over by the First Vice-Mayor of Administration, was reviewed several times by officials from various government departments. These review meetings eventually led to the final Comprehensive Plan for the Prevention of Sexual Violence (CPPSV), which Mayor Park Won-soon announced in a press conference on March 6, 2013.
Implementation of the CPPSV in partnership with citizens and NGOs (March 2013 onward).
Seoul City established a public-private partnership governance over the implementation of the CPPSV, launching public awareness campaigns in the first phase, developing security networks citywide in the second phase, and creating a one-stop system for reporting and protection in the third phase in close partnership with citizens and NGOs.
Continuous monitoring and feedback from citizens (April 2013 onward).
Seoul continues to organize interdepartmental monitoring and review meetings on the CPPSV, which is supervised by the Gender Equality Committee, comprised of 36 women representatives. The city also organizes Gender Governance Meetings with citizens and NGOs, as well as regular meetings with the Local Solidarity for the Safety of Children and Women and experts on violence against women.
Stakeholders and participants
Citizens at the center of the process, from planning to implementation.
Seoul City’s Safer Neighborhoods for Women Program enlists the input of diverse citizen groups, including those commonly marginalized in policymaking, such as seniors and young women. The 33 neighborhoods throughout Seoul participating in this program have taken a proactive approach to sexual violence, with locals cooperating with women’s organizations to identify problems and conduct educational programs. These communal efforts are crucial to preventing and countering hidden forms of violence against women, and foster an environment in which all community members are involved in keeping their neighborhoods safe.
Private-sector entities, including the Korea Association of Convenience Stores (KACS) and ADT Caps.
The success of Seoul’s CPPSV stems in part from the contributions and participation of numerous private-sector entities that recognize and want to help make Seoul a safer city for women. The Korea Association of Convenience Stores (KACS) joined Seoul’s initiative by providing emergency safe havens for women at their stores (open 24 hours). Any woman fleeing a violent or threatening situation can go to these stores, which are designated “Women’s Safety Patrol Houses,” for assistance. Similarly, Seoul City launched the “Home Patrol Service Program” with ADT Caps, a private security company, to protect women living in low-income households in vulnerable neighborhoods.
Greater force of execution, thanks to SMPA.
The success of policies like the CPPSV depends on thorough enforcement, which demands strong police power for the purposes of patrolling, emergency investigations, and others. In September 2012, Seoul signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the SMPA to cooperate on reducing violence against women in the city. The SMPA and Seoul City held several joint task force meetings while forming the city’s policy, and conducted a citywide survey to determine vulnerable areas in need of intensive police support and surveillance.
Human resources: Sexual Violence Crisis Intervention Team, consisting of lawyers and other experts.
Interviews held with actual victims revealed many flaws in the systems being employed by support organizations for women victimized by sexual violence in Seoul, the major ones being the lack of streamlined and integrated services, and the dearth of information on the steps women needed to take after being assaulted. To deal with these issues, the city assembled the Sexual Violence Crisis Intervention Team (SVCIT), consisting of police officers, counselors, medical practitioners, and legal practitioners, which leverages the expertise of its members to provide quicker emergency intervention and follow-up care for victims. The SVCIT has a presence in each of the 25 districts of Seoul. Moreover, the mayor of Seoul established the Legal and Medical Advisory Group, appointing 170 members—all lawyers and doctors specializing in sexual violence—to ensure that victims receive the legal and medical help they need. These members dedicate themselves to the cause without receiving budgetary support from the city.
Financial resources: Lightening the burden on taxpayers with private-sector investment.
Seoul ensures the safety of women living in 3,000 low-income households located in vulnerable neighborhoods based on a partnership with ADT Caps, a private security company, which installed additional surveillance cameras, infrared sensors, and window shields in these areas. To lower the financial burden of the endeavor, Seoul City successfully induced investment from ADT Caps, resulting in a reduced monthly charge for the targeted households from USD 58.00 per household per month to just USD 9.00 per month. The partnership has helped Seoul save over USD 1,771,000 each year. Based on arrangements with the 25 districts and the SMPA in advance, Seoul was also able to earmark a significant amount of the city’s budget for the infrastructure needed for the CPPSV. All this was possible because so many in Seoul recognized the need to provide a safer environment for women throughout the city.
Technical resources: Women’s Safety Patrol Houses and a dedicated hotline.
In an effort to help women in flight from danger, Seoul designated 656 convenience stores across the city, which are open 24 hours, as Women’s Safety Patrol Houses. These function as emergency safe havens: when a woman flees to one of them to escape danger, the clerk on duty can press a wireless alarm button he or she carries in their pocket that is connected to an electronic database of store addresses and telephone numbers, this database allows police to know instantly the exact location of the store, thereby expediting response time.
A human network of safety enlisting over 10,000 participating locals.
In Seoul, over 1,000 citizens have volunteered to accompany women returning home at night, while another 2,000 or so have registered as volunteers for patrols in the Safer Neighborhoods for Women Program. There are currently 656 convenience stores designated as Women’s Safety Patrol Houses to assist women fleeing from danger, and 3,000 more volunteers who have been trained how to keep women safe while in these stores. Over 1,000 delivery men for popular franchise restaurants have also been trained to provide help when they spot instances of violence against women.
Massive public campaigns and educational programs.
Seoul provides sexual violence prevention classes for over 50,000 people of all ages and backgrounds each year. These programs include puppet shows for preschoolers and sex and human rights education for teens. These programs ensure that Seoul citizens develop strong sensitivity to human rights violations from an early age. Self-defense classes for women are being offered in many communities as well, as are leadership courses for women. Gender awareness education is mandatory for court officers, police officers, and counselors, and such programs have received positive responses from both genders, with a satisfaction score of 92.2 percent on average. The city also launched a petition drive in the campaign to reduce violence against women, obtaining signatures from 250,000 citizens, who in signing have expressed their commitment to and support for the cause.
Environmental safety networks encompassing 600 special control zones.
Seoul City and the SMPA conducted a citywide survey that revealed 600 areas in the city in need of special control and monitoring for sexual violence. Officers are regularly dispatched to these areas under the Responsible Officer Assignment System for patrolling purposes. These areas are also given additional CPTED support, with neighborhoods under redevelopment being redesigned to create safer environments for women and children. Seoul also provides the Home Patrol Service Program for 3,000 low-income households in the city in partnership with ADT Caps, a private security company.
One-stop system, open 24/7, for reporting and protection.
Victims of sexual violence in Seoul can instantly report crimes online on Seoul City’s official website. When a report is received, it is immediately redirected to police and city authorities, enabling immediate response to the crime (e.g. evidence collection) and support for victims (e.g. emergency legal and medical counseling). This reporting system has helped 4,561 women so far.
Monitoring system consisting of citizens, women’s organizations and experts.
Citizens, NGO representatives, and experts have all cooperated with Seoul City in monitoring the progress of its CPPSV over the last year or so. The Report on the Monitoring of Women’s Safety Facilities in Seoul: From Citizens’ Perspectives, published in 2013, details key aspects of civic participation. Citizens themselves volunteered to be “mystery shoppers” to evaluate the quality of services the city is providing under the initiative. A satisfaction survey was conducted among women who used these facilities and services as well, which asked them to cite specific recommendations for improvements to be made. One problem that came to light in the satisfaction survey was that in the early days of the program, citizens who had volunteered to help escort women safely back home at night often forgot to present their IDs. This spurred needed change, with volunteers now obligated to present their IDs to women they are accompanying to assure these women of their intention. Evaluations were also carried out on the educational programs introduced under the CPPSV, such as those on violence against women and gender awareness. These evaluations have helped to improve the quality of education provided for different groups of people.
Women’s policy now a major indicator on the performance evaluation of public employees.
Seoul openly recruited 24 volunteers to participate in a policy governance program to help the city analyze and evaluate its policies. The women’s policy has become a major indicator on the balance score card (BSC) evaluation of senior and high-ranking officials in the city government as well, with failure to ensure its success resulting in limited career advancement.
Review and feedback from women’s representatives on the overall progress of the policy.
Seoul City regularly asks for counsel on the CPPSV from the Gender Equality Committee, which is comprised of 36 women representatives from diverse fields such as CPPSV law, economics, journalism, and others. The committee provides valuable advice and supervision on policies from the planning stage into implementation and onwards, and ensures that the voices and needs of women of diverse backgrounds are reflected in all of the programs introduced under the CPPSV.
Improving public awareness with media campaigns.
In the early days of the CPPSV, there were consistent objections, criticisms, and complaints from men who perceived the plan as an attack on the traditional patriarchal structure of Korea. Prevalent was the erroneous idea that investment in such a program was a waste since all women had to do was return home early and act properly so as not to become victims of crime. Clearly such ideas formed the basis of the problem itself and only reinforced the need for such a plan. Seoul City set out to educate the public on women’s issues through public campaigns, social media, and public contests. Such efforts made a considerable and noticeable difference, and the city continues to reinforce and expand their contents.
Struggling to establish MOUs between Seoul and private businesses.
Private-sector participation was crucial for the success of programs such as these. However, many businesses were reluctant to participate in what they viewed as a profitless project. To change their minds, Seoul City officials visited these businesses to try to convince them of the program’s value. After officials pointed out the long-term public image benefits of associating themselves with such a project, Seoul City was able to enter into memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with several businesses, ensuring the successful implementation of its innovative programs for women.
Increased meetings and contact with locals.
Early on, the program suffered from lack of participation and enthusiasm from locals, as there had been no such program before. So, Seoul City officials organized meetings and briefings for various local groups and organizations, at which they explained why the program was needed and how the active participation of residents would improve their communities. These community reach-out efforts resulted in the strong government-citizen partnership that helped the program finally achieve success.
Communal involvement in preventing violence against women.
A neighborhood in the Geumcheon-gu district of Seoul on any given night is full of young children, particularly girls, playing on the streets, as their parents—both fathers and mothers—tend to work late. When one of these girls was victimized in a sexual assault case, local elderly women volunteered to patrol the streets and alleyways in the neighborhood to keep all the girls safe. In the Seodaemun-gu district, where many neighborhoods are under redevelopment, local women have formed monitoring volunteer groups to patrol crime-prone areas on a regular basis. Pharmacists in the Eunpyeong-gu district have taken training courses on domestic abuse and now provide information on nearby counseling and support centers for women who come into their stores after suffering violence. All these are part of the Safer Neighborhoods for Women Program, which is largely being led and shaped by citizens, not bureaucrats. Neighbors who used to turn a blind eye to instances of violence and abuse have been transformed into active guardians, providing substantial help in stopping and preventing violence against women.
New jobs for women from marginalized groups and low-income households.
The Safe Company Service is part of Seoul’s so-called “New Deal” plan on tackling growing unemployment. The service now employs 800 women from marginalized groups and low-income households who accompany other women returning home late at night and patrol neighborhoods. The Safe Company Service has not only created additional jobs, but also contributes significantly to the safety of women.
Safe living environments for women in low-income households.
Women in low-income households tend to live in buildings and areas susceptible to break-ins and other crimes, and form the majority of victims of sexual assaults accompanying break-ins. Private companies offer security services, but often at prices too high for these women to afford. Thanks to the partnership between Seoul City and ADT Caps, however, women in low-income households are now eligible for the Home Patrol Service Program, under which surveillance cameras and alarm bells are installed in their homes for USD 9.00 a month. This plan also includes the immediate mobilization of security personnel when the alarms are sounded. The city analyzes the qualifications of candidate women and actively invites single-parent households, low-income families, and others to become beneficiaries of the program. As a result, 3,000 households today live in better and safer environments. The beneficiaries of the program report a 77.5 percent satisfaction rate, citing in particular its affordable cost and and the added reassurance it gives them as the two greatest benefits of the program.
Psychological support for vulnerable women with immediate attention and care.
Seoul City established a new integrated and streamlined system of reporting and protection which enables women to report the sexual violence they have suffered or witnessed at any time via the city’s website and other online channels, and guarantees they receive the help they need in a timely and efficient manner. The new system reflects a new perspective of women, not as mere helpless victims of crimes, but as survivors capable of doing the minimal work to help themselves. The new system provided medical, legal, and housing services for 6,487 women last year, and recorded a satisfaction rate of up to 88 percent.
Daily policy measures preventing sexual violence.
Seoul City operates a telephone hotline (#120), which women can call to request accompaniment when they return home late at night. Over 65,000 women have used this service so far, with a satisfaction rate reaching 85 percent. Women in danger can now flee to nearby convenience stores open 24 hours for assistance. The stores designated as Women’s Safety Patrol Houses can be found using the smartphone application, “Seoul Smart App.” Recently, around midnight, a young woman who was being chased by a sexual predator fled to one of these convenience store safe havens and avoided the danger.
Transferability and Sustainability
Financial stability: Solid financial resources.
Seoul has partnered with private-sector entities, inviting businesses themselves to participate in the CPPSV programs in operation. In 2013, the city also secured a significant budget for many of the CPPSV programs to ensure their sustainable and stable operations. Many of these programs are now run on Seoul’s sizable gender awareness budget, and enjoy matching-fund support from the National Treasury.
Cultural stability: Raising social awareness of the importance of preventing sexual violence.
Seoul City achieved success with its CPPSV mainly by enlisting the participation of many different parties, including individual citizens, NGOs, and women’s issue specialists all of whom assisted in educating the general populace on sexual violence as a social issue requiring concerted efforts for a solution. The city’s eagerness to meet and exchange information and opinions with local citizens resulted in the success of the Safer Neighborhoods for Women Program, while campaigns and educational programs have served to raise citizens’ awareness of the vulnerability of women and children to sexual violence. Thanks to Seoul City’s active media campaigns, discourse on sexual violence as a social issue has expanded in Seoul.
Normative stability: Preparing legal and institutional measures to ensure successful implementation.
In 2012, Seoul became the first local government in Korea to enact the Municipal Ordinance on Preventing Violence Against Women, and Protecting and Supporting Victims. The municipal ordinance provides the legal and institutional grounds for Seoul’s CPPSV and its sexual violence prevention programs (educational programs, campaigns, etc.) and for support of victims.
Reflecting advice from the 2013 UN Commission on the Status of Women.
Seoul is the first local government in Korea to take such an active and preventive approach to sexual violence. The city set out to foster social consensus on the issue, increase civic participation in efforts to combat it, and enlist widespread participation at all levels of society to develop safety networks throughout the city. Such efforts were informed by advice received during the 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status Women.
Benchmarking and press coverage.
Major cities in Korea have begun to benchmark and adopt Seoul’s preventive approach to sexual violence. The Safe Company Service, for instance, is at work in 10 other major cities in Korea at present, including Busan and Daegu. The Women’s Safety Patrol Houses program will soon be extended to six other cities, including Incheon and Yeosu whose officials are currently consulting their counterparts in Seoul on the matter. The central government has also begun to promote the Safer Neighborhoods for Women and the Home Patrol Service programs based on national directives. These programs have attracted attention from news outlets around the world as well, including NHK of Japan (aired in May and July, 2013), and ABC of Australia (aired in May, 2013). Delegates from Seoul also presented the CPPSV and its successes at the Seventh UN Habitat’s World Urban Forum, held in Medellin, Colombia, in April, 2014.
Lessons and Implication
Human safety network: A core long-term strategy for putting an end to sexual violence.
Seoul’s CPPSV has had so much success in civil society because the city adopted a preventive approach to sexual violence and formed close partnerships with local citizens. Investments in long-term educational programs and campaigns for raising gender awareness and sensitivity to human rights violations may not produce tangible results in the short term, but in the long term they make our communities safer and better for the most vulnerable members of our society. While developing and expanding technical infrastructure to help women feel safer, there was also keen awareness that people, themselves, hold the key to combating the problem. Seoul’s human safety network against sexual violence, including the Safer Neighborhoods for Women Program, enlisted locals’ active participation in preventing and stopping violence in blind spots and proved to be the central factor behind the success of the CPPSV.
Strong partnership and governance over the administration of gender policies.
Before deciding and implementing the CPPSV, Seoul actively sought out the participation of other organizations such as the SMPA and Ewha Women’s University in its analyses of sex crime statistics and in its interviews with the actual victims of these crimes. These organizations, as well as businesses and NGOs, also assisted the city in its creation of substantial policy measures that could make a difference women’s lives in reality, and leveraged their expertise in implementing such policies. The continuous advice and feedback from citizens, women’s organizations, and experts also helped the city update and improve its programs. All were made possible through the partnership-based governance structure the city established to ensure these programs were realized.
Women victimized by sexual violence in Korea were long forced to live with the stigma and pain, as society often blamed them and not the offenders for the crime. Seoul City set out to break down this cycle of misguided attribution by taking a preventive approach to sexual violence that included expanding social discourse on the issue and enlisting citizens’ participation through campaigns and others. The city’s new policy created through a gender mainstreaming lens has enabled Koreans to recognize and accept that women’s safety and rights are important social issues demanding attention from all people, not just from women themselves. A poll conducted in December, 2013 with 4,811 Seoul residents ranked the women’s safety policy as among the top 10 most important policy changes Seoul made that year. Seoul’s initiative in this regard has paved the way for ensuring justice and dignity for women, freeing women from the stigma that once accompanied such crimes.