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[EXCLUSIVE] Korea’s justice system fails foreign victims of rape

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Published : 2016-03-30 16:36
Updated : 2016-03-30 19:52

When Airdre Mattner decided to join a pub-crawl with her friends to meet new people in Seoul, the Australian did not imagine that her night would turn into a horrible nightmare.

The memories are still vivid for Mattner on the night of Sept. 25, 2015, when she was drugged, abducted and raped in Hongdae, a popular nightlife spot in western Seoul.

What followed the brutal attack was the slipshod and careless response of the police and hospital in helping foreign victims like herself, she said.

“That night, I was taken in a taxi to a hotel in the middle of nowhere by the man who later raped me,” Mattner, who now works as an English teacher in Japan, told The Korea Herald.

“I pleaded with the taxi driver to take me to my hostel. He ignored me and the next thing I recall is being on a bed in a hotel room.”

She struggled and tried to push him away but was too heavily drugged to fight him, she said. She said the next morning, she woke up to find the assailant had left, with her clothes and belongings torn and strewn across the room.

Airdre Mattner (GoFundMe)

But it was only the beginning of her long nightmare.

“When I reported the crime to the police, I was questioned in a very insulting and offensive manner,” Mattner said. “The language used by police made me feel like they blamed me for the rape as if I was lying.”

A police official from the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency in charge of investigating the nation’s sexual crimes told The Korea Herald that they consider sexual offenses seriously and take necessary measures for Koreans and foreigners alike.

The official said that victims receive medical emergency check-ups at 36 Sunflower Women and Children’s Center across the nation and make statements to the police when rape takes place. The medical records are sent to the National Scientific, Criminal & Investigation Laboratory for more in-depth investigation.

“In case of foreign victims of sexual crimes, it is difficult because they think they were not informed enough due to language barrier and lack of sophisticated translation,” the police said.

“Victims also can have reasonable doubt about investigation results, but investigators close the case only when it is impossible to trace suspects and evidence. We treat both foreign and Korean victims in the same way.”

But that’s not how Mattner felt about the investigation process. She said that she had endured hours of waiting, “insulting” questioning by the police and painful tests at the hospital. Since she returned to Japan, she has not heard of any progress from the hospital or the authorities about her case.

“To this day, they have done no investigation except for collecting CCTV footage from the hotel where the crime happened,” she said. Police decided to drop the case in January, citing lack of evidence, without explaining their decision to her.

Mattner said the way the hospital handled things devastated her even further.

“The hospital not only failed to collect my DNA evidence but also falsified my statements,” she said of her medical results that she was able to access only after pressuring the hospital through the Australian Embassy.

“I was absolutely clear in telling them I was sure I had been drugged,” she said. “But a hospital staff wrote on official documents that I was too drunk and did not remember anything that had happened.”

In her medical statement obtained by The Korea Herald, a doctor in charge of running the rape test for her did not collect DNA evidence from her body and clothes and did not take a picture of her damaged body, which is necessary to follow up with the investigation. 

A doctor, who is aware of Mattner’s case and wished to remain anonymous, told the Korea Herald that she was also shocked at the hospital’s initial response toward the rape victim.

“When rape victims arrive, doctors should run a rape kit to collect evidence as quickly as possible after explaining why such a measure is needed,” the doctor said. “Rape victims are especially traumatized and vulnerable, but in this case (the) initial check-up was not professionally done.”

“I don’t understand why the hospital did not fill out some of the rape documentations without any explanation,” she said. “I don’t understand why they did not collect her underwear and failed to provide her with preventative medication for sex-related diseases.”

Mattner is not alone in stepping up to tell stories of such an ordeal in Korea. After sharing her story online, 16 women approached her to share their experiences. Most of them said they had their cases dealt with in either similar or exactly the same way.

A U.S. citizen, who was  then 17 years old, said she was raped by a Korean man in Seoul in 2014 when she was on an exchange program at a high school. Unlike Mattner, she decided to stay silent and not tell anyone of her “shameful” experience.

“He was Korean and I am (a) foreigner, so I was scared that I might not win the case. I didn’t want to go through the pain of facing the Korean court system and exposing my rape to my friends and family, for the chance that he might go to jail,” she told The Korea Herald. “I learned that the hard way, but Korea needs to develop better resources when dealing with rape.”

A 30-year-old woman from the U.S., who said she sought police help after being raped by a foreign suspect at an Internet Café in Hongdae in 2013, told The Korea Herald that she had to go through a long, horrible process of telling the police about what happened over and over again.

“Police took my report and called me in to watch the CCTV video a few weeks later,” she said. “Then they had me retell my story and police officers started asking me questions about the incident in the hallway.”

“I didn’t know why I had to keep telling them the story, even though they never gave me any updates on my case,” she said. “Every time I dealt with the police, they made me feel like I was lying.”

She then left Korea and learned via email that the police dropped her case due to “lack of evidence. “They had evidence, but just did not use it,” she said.

Kim Bo-hwa, a senior researcher from the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center, said that the ordeal is equally felt among Korean victims due to lack of awareness of sexual crimes here.

“Rape victims here suffer from insensitivity toward them among government officials, lawyers, their families,” she told The Korea Herald.

“During the investigation process from hospitals to the court, they are victimized again and again due to lack of awareness on sex crimes in the society,” she said, referring to a question like “Why did you even get drunk in the first place?” as an example.

“There is a manual on how to deal with rape victims, but in most cases, those actions are not implemented,” she said. “The public awareness on sex crimes as well as its culture should change to improve the situation.”

Six months after the horrible incident took place, Mattner took the matter into her own hands. She is currently raising funds on Go Fund Me page to take legal action in the U.K., wherethe man she believes raped her resides. She plans to return to Korea in May to collect the CCTV footage.

She raised $12,320 as of Wednesday from 381 people since she launched the campaign on March 15.

“Obviously I am not condemning the country whatsoever. I was treated very kindly by Korean people. But (the) hospital and police made the horrific experience so much more traumatizing because of their failure to take action,” she said. “There is absolutely no excuse for this.”

Read more of Airdre Mattner’s story at www.gofundme.com/justiceforairdre.

By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)