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Indonesian woman’s nightclub beating draws angry reaction

An Indonesian woman claimed Sunday that she was discriminated against and beaten up by a Korean bouncer of a club because of her nationality, in an incident that drew a lot of social media attention over the weekend.  

Jessica Setia, a 21-year-old Indonesian national who has studied here for two years, suffered a 0.5-centimeter-deep wound on her lips and a bruise on her chin as a result of her brawl with the male bouncer of a club in Busan around midnight Friday.

Setia claimed the Korean man was rude, “being so racist to us without any reason.”

“They let my friends, who hold Korean nationality, in easily. And when it comes to me and my Indonesian friend, he made it difficult (for us to enter the club,)” Setia told The Korea Herald.

When she saw her friend, another Indonesian who only gave her first name Gabrielle, was pushed down by the bouncer and had her ID card thrown on the pavement, she pushed the bouncer, Setia said.

A fight ensued and she had her mouth punched by the bouncer several times until her lips were torn and bleeding. She was taken to a hospital and given eight stitches in her lips.

Gabrielle said that the ordeal was linked to her ethnicity based on her experience in general in Korea.

“I am used to people looking down on Indonesians. I thought that he did not like foreigners so he might have been rude to us especially because we were not white Caucasians,” she said. “When we got upset and showed it to him, I think it made him angry.”

Jessica Setia says she was beaten by a male bouncer of the Busan club Groove. (Facebook)
Jessica Setia says she was beaten by a male bouncer of the Busan club Groove. (Facebook)

The club told The Korea Herald that there had been no discrimination based on ethnicity or gender that night, expressing regret over criticism of the establishment due to her “one-sided” argument.

“Our club checks identities of all customers, regardless of their ethnicities, through the same procedure. There is no racial discrimination at all,” the club said in a statement.

It was Setia who first used curse words and shook her fist at the bouncer and the bouncer's action to defend himself led to the injury on her lips, the club added.

Busan Seomyeon Police Station said that an investigation was underway, with those involved to be called in again to testify.

“The man argues that it was a two-way assault. Due to the fight, the left side of his cheek became swollen, according to our investigation. We are going to further investigate the case on Monday,” said a police officer from the team in charge of the initial investigation into the case.

Setia’s experience at the club went viral on social media after her friend Joshua Irwin wrote a post that describes what happened to Setia and him that night, along with a picture of her bleeding in her mouth.

The post received more than 1,000 likes, 650 shares and 200 comments as of Sunday afternoon after it was first published on Saturday morning.

Many of the comments made by foreign residents in Korea showed support for Setia and rage at what they view as discriminative action. They also shared similar treatment they had experienced here.

Behind the reason that such a “small” provocation could lead to such brutal treatment is the “outdated” and “misogynistic” belief that men are superior to women, Irwin said.

“This idea is endemic in many societies (especially in Korea). This altercation happened because within this way of thinking, if woman doesn’t follow protocols and by doing so disrespects a man then she needs to be checked and punished,” he said.

“Furthermore, being a white foreigner is unquestionably more influential than being a foreigner who doesn’t look white or is from another Asian country,” Irwin said. “Had it been a Korean woman, or a white woman, or a male then I am sure this would not have escalated as quickly as it had.”

Amanda Bastos, an American citizen who has lived here for seven years, also talked about foreigners’ distrust toward the police.

“Most likely, it happened because she was a foreigner and he knew that no one would do anything about it. Also, I think there is very little accountability when violence happens towards foreigners.”

It is not the first time that foreigners in Korea have said that clubs and bars discriminate against them based on their ethnicity.

In early June, Kislay Kumar, a 25-year-old Indian national, was denied entry to a bar in Itaewon, multicultural district in Seoul, because of his nationality. He was told “No Indian” by a bouncer, according to a video footage. His friends from other countries were allowed entry.

South Korea, one of the most homogenous countries in Asia, lags behind in international standards in terms of racism and diversity, experts say.

The United Nations special rapporteur on racism, Mutuma Ruteere, urged South Korea in 2014 to enact an anti-discrimination law to curb racism and xenophobia, given the country’s history of ethnic and cultural homogeneity.

According to a 2015 survey of 4,000 adults by the Ministry of Gender and Family Affairs, 25.7 percent of respondents said that they did not want people of different races as neighbors.

By Ock Hyun-ju (