Systematically stigmatizing foreign English teachers

2010-03-30 12:56

In January 2005, Korean netizens discovered "dirty dancing" style photos taken at a "sexy costume party" at the foreign English teacher site English Spectrum which led to a scandal as the photos were spread by netizens and reported in the mainstream media. These netizens started an online "Naver Cafe" called "Anti-English Spectrum" to combat what they described as "the degradation of Korean women by English Spectrum," though, according to one of the women who appeared in the widely distributed party photos, "Some online articles and the Anti-English Spectrum cafe said we were prostitutes, western princesses and brothel keepers," suggesting that there were other motives.
Anti-English Spectrum, described on their website as "The Citizen`s Movement to Expel Illegal Teachers of Foreign Languages," attempted to disguise their true nature in 2007 by changing their website banner showing Korean nationalist heroes and the caption "Our homeland is protected by the blood of our ancestors" to one showing a child at a blackboard with the title "The Citizen`s Group for Upright English Education."
Their day to day activities, which consist of race-based profiling and stalking of foreigners, have not changed, however. Anti-English Spectrum`s website is full of updates about foreign teachers that they are "pursuing" based on tips alleging illegal activity. A post on Oct. 14 about the "stakeout" of a female foreign teacher said, "Drugs have not turned up, only a used condom was found," suggesting they search through teachers` garbage.
In a recent interview, the cafe`s manager even suggested that, instead of calling the police, people who want to report foreign teacher crime should "go through our cafe members (so) we can advise you and alert police." This behavior, however, has not been condemned, but was officially rewarded by the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency in 2007.
Cafe members claim to have contributed to numerous newspaper articles and news broadcasts. To be sure, interviews with the cafe`s manager -- who invariably portrays foreign teachers negatively -- have appeared in articles in most of Korea`s major newspapers.
In the summer of 2006, an innocuous news report about rates of voluntary HIV testing among foreigners which mentioned English teachers led the cafe to begin a campaign to stigmatize foreign English teachers as being an AIDS threat. On Anti-English Spectrum`s site, they posted that "foreigners infected with AIDS have been indiscriminately spreading the AIDS virus" and -- perhaps revealing their true concern -- that "Koreans who have had sexual contact with a foreigner will almost all contract AIDS."
They then worked with a tabloid newspaper and produced a story about the threat of AIDS-infected foreign English teachers which called for strengthening E-2 visa regulations, which was then used as evidence there was a problem when cafe members sent petitions to the Ministry of Justice. An e-mail sent during a bad breakup was pitched by Anti-English Spectrum as the basis of a story carried by a major newspaper in May 2007 titled "White English Teacher Threatens Korean Woman with AIDS," which in its Sports edition carried the subtitle "Beware the `Ugly White Teacher.`"
That a major newspaper would publish this was shocking, but not as shocking as the fact that the manager of Anti-English Spectrum was invited to an immigration policy meeting hosted by the Ministry of Justice on Oct. 23, 2007. It was this meeting that decided upon strengthened E-2 visa regulations, including HIV tests, something that Anti-English Spectrum -- who had contributed to all of the past negative news articles equating foreign English teachers with AIDS -- had requested in petitions for the past year.
That this campaign was designed not to protect children or unsuspecting Korean women, but to stigmatize foreign English teachers is suggested by the fact that when an HIV positive Korean man who had unprotected sex with numerous women for years was arrested in March, it didn`t merit a single word on Anti-English Spectrum`s website.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of The Korea Herald. To read more of Matt VanVolkenburg`s writings, go to -- Ed.

By Matt VanVolkenburg
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