Melissa Brouard had been three months into her new life in Ulsan when on the night of July 7 a Korean national broke into her apartment and raped her. Like so many other English speakers who come here for employment, Brouard had come here to work as a teacher and to save some money.
In the wake of the incident there were many reports in the media and on blogs using alleged quotes from Brouard, which painted a different picture than what actually happened. After granting an e-mail interview to The Korea Herald, Brouard is attempting to straighten out misconceptions about the assault and the aftermath that may have been distorted by local media.
When news broke about the assault, a leading Korean daily, allegedly quoting Brouard, stated that she was unhappy with the police response, knew of another foreign woman sexually assaulted in the Ulsan area whose perpetrators were caught but not punished, and that she was being treated differently due to being a foreigner.
Problem is, Brouard didn`t talk to the newspaper. They made up her quotes.
Brouard states that, at the time, she had not been interviewed by any reporters or spoken to any bloggers. She did, however, post some details about the incident on an online forum where she received emotional support from fellow expats, but any mention she made of the handling of her case was positive and made in an effort to alter misinformation.
Brouard said she never thought that sleeping alone in her apartment would be potentially dangerous.
"Being from South Africa, I am very cautious and never thought that sleeping alone in my apartment that this would happen to me. I always double lock the doors," she said.
On the night of her assault, the perpetrator entered her apartment through the laundry room window, handcuffed her and rape her. The attack was premeditated, and it was later found out that the man had been observing her from his apartment for quite some time. Following the assault, Brouard contacted a coworker who called the police for her.
The response was quick. Brouard says the police handled the case very well.
"The police and detectives were at my apartment not long after the incident accord. They were very professional and drove me to the rape center. I am very pleased with the quick and professional way in which they caught the suspect," she said.
At Ulsan`s rape and crisis center her evidence was processed. The people at the center "were understanding and kind, yet very professional. They stayed with me while I slept and even though they couldn`t speak very much English, it was very comforting to have someone there," stated Brouard. She said the police even phoned her prior to her return to her native country in order to wish her well.
On Monday July 13, a suspect was arrested after being identified by the police through CCTV surveillance. After the arrest, the man was identified by Brouard. The assailant was charged with sexual assault and breaking and entering. Further charges are currently pending.
After the apprehension, the police encouraged Brouard to stay in Korea because it could make the handling of the case easier than if she were in South Africa. That said, Brouard has left the case in the hands of her lawyer and has returned home.
"I realized that I could not live in Korea anymore due to bad memories and not feeling safe. I need to be with my family. I was a virgin until this happened and what he did to me will remain with me forever, as he has taken away some of my dignity and my pride," she said.
Her lawyer, Lee Chang-hyun, explained in an interview the specifics of sexual assault cases in Korea in the context of Brouard`s case.
Lee first and foremost wanted to clear up the public exposure by both communities, which he said were "naturally biased."
"The foreign community media was oriented towards the judicial system and the Korean community media had stated the victim was offered substantial `blood money,` which was untrue," said Lee.
He went on to add that reports on both sides missed the key point that "sexual assault is a crime against women," and that the "nationality of the woman does not change the nature of the crime or the suffering."
With no previous criminal record, if the accused is convicted, Lee says the maximum sentence of four years can be expected. In Korea the average incarceration period for a first time offender is two years, but in this case the fact that physical restraints were used has added two years on the total.
As for the fact that Brouard has left Korea, the lawyer said he did not foresee any complications with the case, but additional testimony can be given to the prosecutor and the courts by the victim through him as he has been given power of attorney in her absence.
"The testimony will not be prejudiced because of her absence," he said.
Now able to look back on her assault, Brouard advises women never to let their guard down. She also wants to see her attacker serve as full a sentence as possible.
"At this moment it is most important for me that he serves maximum jail time so that he does not do this to anyone else," she said.
Not wanting to take "blood money" Brouard was forced to fundraise in order to get enough money for a plane ticket home, as there was nothing in her teaching contract that provided for such an occurrence. She adds that she remains in disagreement of a perpetrator paying money to a victim in order to receive a reduction in sentence length.
"Blood money" refers to "hapuigeum" -- monetary compensation paid by the offender to the victim of a crime to eliminate the application of other punishment. It is a common practice in Korea and is often brokered by the police.
Lee agrees with Brouard`s opinion on victims` compensation and feels that along with the penalties for sexual assault and the mediation process of the judicial system, each point "should be reviewed and strengthened to function as a deterrent against sexual assault of women."
He admits that the Korean judicial system has strengthened certain laws concerning sexual harassment and the protection of minors, but would like to see the laws changed.
"The Korean judicial system has added laws over the last few years to protect minors against sexual predators and strengthened sexual harassment statutes, but the review and revision of the sexual assault laws and statutes has not been completed as of yet. We would like to see an update to the sexual assault laws be a priority of the administration ..., " Lee said.
Both Brouard and Lee hope that this case will develop "a greater awareness of the issue of sexual assault and the victims."
"Rape is a crime that does not discriminate pain and suffering based upon the victims` country of origin," stated Lee.
By Adam Walsh