The Korea Herald


Students' sexual harassment of teachers rises by 77% in 4 years: report

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : June 17, 2024 - 14:13

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More students than ever before are being accused of sexual misconduct against teachers, government data shows.

There were 331 cases of sexual harassment or some kind of sexual misconduct against teachers reported to the Ministry of Education in 2022, local media reported. The figure is a 77 percent surge from the 187 in 2018. It is not clear how many cases were referred to the police.

The rise is far steeper than the increase in the total number of cases concerning infringement of teachers' rights, which went from 2,354 to 3,055 over the same period.

South Korea has recently seen a rise in teachers being subject to sexual harassment from students. In January, the Elementary School Teachers Union held a protest for teachers' rights, related to an incident where four students at a Gimhae elementary school distributed a doctored sexually suggestive photo of their teacher.

The teacher initially decided not to do anything about it, but reported the case to the authorities when he found evidence that the students had further insulted him, such as with rude finger gestures. But the parents of the four students filed criminal charges against the teacher for "emotional child abuse," with allegations including that he did not sufficiently air-condition the classroom, and that he excessively controlled the students during field trips.

The Korean Federation of Teachers' Association says they believe that the harassment by students against teachers is more severe than the reported figures suggest, given the teachers' reluctance to report such cases to the authorities. In one case posted by the KFTA on its homepage last year, three students took photos of a teacher, focusing on parts of her body, and shared them via the instant messenger services.

The perpetrators were forced to transfer to another school but did not face any severe consequences because they were minors.

Those under the age of 19 are subject to the Juvenile Act, and sentencing is generally more lenient than it is for adult criminals. Children under the age of 14 have immunity from any form of legal punishment.

In April, a local court sentenced an 18-year-old and a 19-year-old -- both of whom were minors at the time of the crime last year -- to prison terms for installing spycams in the bathroom to film female teachers, which they did on 44 occasions. They were each sentenced to maximum of two years and six months, and one year and six months, which were both shorter than the sentences of five years and three years requested by the prosecution.

Using a spycam to film another person without consent is punishable by up to seven years in prison, or a 50 million won ($36,000) fine. South Korean law requires sentencing of minors to have an upper and lower limit for incarceration.

Last week, a boy in the third year of elementary school was found to have slapped, spit and cursed at the vice principal at his school for telling him off.

With the recent surge in the number of teachers being abused, morale in the profession is falling.

The KFTA in May released the survey results on 1,320 teachers across the country on what they thought of being teachers, which showed that 19.7 percent of the respondents said they would choose to be a teacher if they were to live life over again.

It was the lowest figure since the group's survey started including the question in 2012, and less than half of the figure when it peaked at 52.6 percent in 2016.

Only 21.4 percent said they were content with being a teacher, which was the lowest figure since 2006.