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More Korean male sex abuse victims seek help: report

The number of South Korean men who sought help at Sunflower Centers -- government-affiliated agencies for sexual violence survivors -- increased dramatically by 66 percent last year from the year before, the Gender Ministry announced Monday.

The Gender Ministry currently runs a total of 36 Sunflower Centers nationwide, providing services including medical and legal assistance to sex abuse victims. Notably, the number of male sex abuse victims aged 19 or above, who visited the centers for support, increased significantly in the last two years, from 72 in 2014 to 120 last year.

Also, a total of 464 men also sought help for domestic abuse at the centers. The proportion of male domestic abuse survivors who visited the centers also increased by 1.4 percent points from the year before, from 6.9 percent to 8.3 percent.

“We don’t think of this as more men are being abused nowadays than in the past,” said Hong Mi-ga from the Gender Ministry. “We think male survivors have always existed. We think more survivors are realizing there is help available and that it’s okay to seek support.”

Meanwhile, the number of male children sex abuse victims – those aged 13 or under – dropped last year from the year before, from 545 to 433.

In total, 1,019 male survivors were treated at the centers nationwide in 2015. Still, they only accounted for 5 percent of all 20,218 sex abuse survivors who sought help at the centers.

The Gender Ministry last year released a report on sex abuses cases against men for the first time. The report contained research by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, which surveyed South Korean men who were sexually abused while serving their military duty, their perpetrators, as well as their witnesses.

Majority or 74.7 percent of the surveyed survivors said they were abused for no apparent reason. Meanwhile, 72.9 percent of the perpetrators, as well as 76.8 percent of the witnesses, claimed the victims became subject to violence because they “looked or behaved in a feminine manner.”

In 2014, a male army conscript surnamed Yoon died after six male colleagues allegedly hit him in the chest while he was eating which led him to choke on his food. According to the Military Human Rights center, Yoon had been constantly sexually assaulted by the bullies, on top of being physically and verbally abused on a daily basis. Some 470 military same-sex sexual abuse cases were reported in 2013, but only 39.5 percent ended with convictions, according to the organization.

While such military same-sex sexual violence prevails, the Gender Ministry currently has no statistics on the gender ratio of Korean perpetrators who have sexually abused men. According to data from the National Police Agency, a total of 25,223 Koreans were arrested for sex abuse charges. Among them, only 1.7 percent were women.

South Korean law currently does not acknowledge same-sex rape or any forms of sexual penetration other than vaginal as rape. Accordingly, same-sex rape is defined as “rape-like” by Korean law and carries lighter penalties.

According to Gender Ministry’s report last year on male sex abuse victims, 41.6 percent of the survivors said they took no action after being abused. Among them, 42.8 percent said they did not do anything as they did not acknowledge the assault as a form of violence.

Among survivors, 60 percent of them experienced sexual harassment, such as being touched inappropriately or being kissed or held in ways that caused discomfort, while 20 percent of them were raped by the abusers.

The report also revealed that male survivors who had been abused by same-sex perpetrators often developed self-loathing and anxiety disorders. One of the survivors interviewed by the government researchers said he volunteered to join the Marine Corps after being sexually assaulted, to prove to himself that he is not “weak.”

“I heard that the training at the Marine Corps is the toughest in the country,” he told researchers.

Another survivor, who identifies himself as gay, developed feelings of guilt after surviving the abuse. “I thought I was punished because I was gay,” he told the researchers.

By Claire Lee (