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The Peninsula

South Korea’s Struggle with School Violence

Published May 28, 2022

The anticipated debut of girl group Le Sserafim has been marred by accusations that one of the members had been a school bully. Last year, other singers, actors, and even professional athletes faced similar allegations. Bullying is not an issue unique to South Korea, so why are these accusations enough to damage a career?

Bullying in South Korean schools has been a major concern since before the 1990s when the phenomenon was given an actual name (wang-ta). The School Violence Prevention and Countermeasures Act was passed in 2004, which highlighted how students engaged in acts such as assault, abduction, blackmail, property damage, and physical or mental damage as part of bullying. While traditional school violence such as verbal abuse has decreased since 2012, new forms of violence like sexual bullying have emerged.

A big data social study broke down recent bullying trends into 3Vs – velocity, volume, and variety. Today’s adolescents are more frequently exposed to bullying. Incidents reported to the Autonomous Committees for Countermeasures against School Violence have increased. Technology has expanded the reach of bullying.

With 1 in 4 school children heavily dependent on the internet and smartphones, bullying can take place online and outside of school hours. And the definition of school violence has been expanded to include the use of the Internet or mobile phones to repeatedly psychologically attack a person.

With the harshest punishment for school violence being expulsion, many victims feel that perpetrators get off too easily. Furthermore, bullying is difficult to regulate, define, and quantify, making it hard to trace through traditional social survey methods. Socially, bullying persists even in the workplace, and many experts have raised the question of whether the blame for bullying in Korea is a symptom of hypercompetitive society – an idea that has been raised for some time.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of  David Lee, Sarah Marshall, and Mai Anna Pressley. Picture from the flickr account of Daniel Ra.

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