11.01.2012

Imbalance of Power and Rape in the Korean Gay Community (Queer Corner)


Contributor Enzo Cho-Gath writes:

Throughout history, rape has been used as a tool to control populations, especially women (discussed elsewhere on this blog). Rape was a common enough occurrence in ancient Israel that they even passed laws for dealing with the after effects- if the female gets pregnant, he should marry her. As is typical in patriarchal societies, the will of the women is constantly erased as she remains a silenced victim, treated by the law as little more than a dumping ground for male hormones.

Even in modern-day America, rape and its definition is still being fought over by different groups. Date rape, 'forcible rape', 'rape-rape' and other ridiculous terms are constantly thrown around to legitimize discrimination against women and to silence victims at every possible term. Unfortunately, the fact that males can be victims of rape is often overlooked, and that is what we are going to look at in this column.
The concept of date-rape is often absent in Korean discourse. In fact, when trying to ask a few mid-20s Koreans I know even how to properly say the word in Korean, two of them said that it was a word I'd never need and refused to continue the conversation. The third honestly was uncomfortable but let me know later it was 강간  (or rape).

The very discomfort people show in discussing rape demonstrates the power it holds over victims in society. I've heard story after story about rapes occurring but have never directly heard a  Korean friend  call it a rape- typically they mitigate the circumstances, pretend it was consensual, or blame the victim even when they are the victims themselves. A conversation on a gay networking site shed some light on just how stringent the problem is here.
애: 안하고싶긴 했어옄
Him: I didn't want to do it but I did haha
나: 그건 강간아니지???
Me: Isn't that rape??
애: 어떤분이랑 데이트? 했어요 ㅋㅋ 근데 그 분이 계속 술을 주는거예여 근데 한국예의가 어른이 주는 술은 먹어야 혜의가 있는거예여 주는대로 먹었다가..ㅋ 뻗어서 모텔 갔음....ㅋ 그날 집에 갓긴 했는데 밤에 느읒게~ ㅋ
Him: I went on a date with someone, but he kept giving me alcohol. Korean etiquette is that you drink whatever someone older than you gives you [ed: especially if they're paying], so I drank what he gave. Then he took me to a motel. I went home that night but very late.
나: 아...그럼 그놈이랑 섹스???
Me: Uh, did you have sex?
애: 그런셈이죠 근데 저두 좋아서 그런지 반항은 안한것같아요.
Him: Basically, but I liked [it/him] so I guess I didn't say no.
This is a pretty common story, made all the more alarming by the fact that it was being told by a 17 year old about an event that had happened over two years prior, when he was just 15. After some further discussion, he continued to refuse to call it rape, only saying that if he didn't want to have sex, he shouldn't have met the 26 year-old who raped it. He blamed himself and said he probably wanted it anyways.
So what we have is a 26 year old buying a 15 year old alcohol and taking him to a hotel and raping him, but the victim himself doesn't acknowledge the situation as rape because he blames himself (also note that these ages follow  Korean age conventions- that means that according to birthdate a 24/25 year-old man raped a 13/14 year-old middle school student). The boy continued to insist it was his fault and that he just doesn't meet that guy anymore- so it's all okay. It's not like he was murdered.
In addition to the lack of awareness that date rape IS rape, there seems to be a cultural reluctance to see that power imbalances play a big role in sex and rape. This is a big issue in America as well, especially when managers seduce or pressure employees into sex. Even in the gay community, there seems to be this misconception that any male who has sex has wanted it and that it's not 'real rape' if the victim is a bottom. This ridiculous concept is never better illustrated than in the constant jokes about how gay men must love prison.
Especially in a culture in which men must follow their 'older brother' (), it's extremely difficult for a young gay man to ever feel truly safe on a date. There is an overall cultural idea that forming a friendship outside of your birth year (known as '동갑친구') is difficult and maybe impossible; age differences even as slight as a year lead to burdens such as the example above with alcohol. Even if someone a year older than me were to pour me alcohol, it would be rude of me to reject it, extremely rude if they're paying. When you have cultural pressures that fall so heavily on these young students, it's no wonder that they don't want to call it rape- in many of their minds, it's just an inevitable part of dating culture.
I remember a few personal experiences of attempted rape when I lived in Seoul. The first was at a Jongro bar in which I was drinking very heavily with a group of acquaintances. An older gentlemen, at least ten years my senior, came over with a bottle of soju and proceeded to continue getting me drunk while the guys I was with began partnering off for the night. He began stroking my leg and telling me how I would make such a cute bottom, and one of the guys I was with actually egged him on, saying that I should take this as a compliment. When I did not, they said I shouldn't be rude or make a scene- just follow hyung (, older brother), do what he says- it's polite, it's Korean culture, they claimed, ashamed of my rudeness.
I tried rejecting the alcohol, much to the embarrassment of my party, and after just ten minutes, the older man attempted to take me to a motel, presumably before I sobered up. I had to physically push him off of me, again to the embarrassment of my party, and stormed out, running around a few corners to keep the pervert from following me before I could grab a taxi.
Another time was at a club in Itaewon when a man much larger than me grabbed my arm, pulling me through a busy crowd, and into the bathroom. I had seen him many times before but we had never talked, he seemed shy around strangers, but I thought maybe he just wanted to talk- after all, the bathroom was the quietest place in the building and using it as a place to talk was common. I asked what he wanted and he responded by shoving his hands down my pants and saying that he wanted to fuck me in the bathroom. I politely said no, then I hit him, and left for the night.
Looking back, I realize that these events may not be representative of what happens every single day in Korea. But the fact that these two attempted rapes on someone as visible as a (at that time) blonde white person took place at two extremely popular and busy venues for gays, it only makes me all the more concerned about what is happening at the smaller venues that slips past the eye because consent is so difficult to discuss, let alone see from a distance. Even more so I am concerned that younger gay men may not have opportunities to discuss consent and that prevailing attitudes toward age hierarchy add a power dynamic that could promote rape culture within the gay community in Korea.
All I can say is that I sincerely hope that there are opportunities for change in the near future. Rape is never a joke and is never okay, under any circumstances. I'm thankful even for the vocabulary that I have to discuss- I know what rape is, but even for me, discussing the exact boundaries for what consent is can be tricky. I wish that there were opportunities for young gays to learn about consent and rape so that they can avoid the pain and shame that so many others seem to believe is nothing more than inevitable.
So that means that the question truly is "How do we educate ourselves about consent?"
At this point the Korean Gender Café would like to identify additional support resources for rape victims or for gay community members, but this is a work in progress (we welcome you to provide information in the comments section and thank you for your contributions here!)
Adaptable Human Services seems to have services in English and in Korean for therapy, or might have referral suggestions (this is not an endorsement by our blog) Website: http://ahskorea.com/