Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Cigarette burns

As mentioned here, in February Korean schoolgirls in Auckland, New Zealand, held and assaulted another Korean girl, burning her arms with cigarettes. The original March 16 Sunday Star Times article, "Schoolgirls torture love rival," is here.
Six schoolgirls are likely to face serious charges after they allegedly held a 16-year-old girl captive for more than an hour while they punched, kicked and burnt her with cigarettes during an horrific attack in Auckland last month.

The group reportedly decided to ambush their victim outside a supermarket as she walked to school one morning apparently because she was more popular and one of the group had a crush on her boyfriend. The victim and her attackers five of whom attend two top Auckland schools are all Korean.

Police have confirmed they are investigating an attack on the young woman. A spokesman said a 17-year-old girl would appear in youth court this week facing a charge of injuring with intent. He said further charges against all six could not be ruled out, but would not confirm the girls' ethnicity or their schools.

The 16-year-old victim was said to be deeply traumatised and did not tell her mother for weeks. She suffered extensive cigarette burns to her arms. Her mother reported the case to police. She told her mother she was too terrified to run away because she knew they would come after her.

The attack has horrified Auckland's Korean community, which has strongly condemned the girls' behaviour and would be looking into the matter, a spokesperson said.
I imagine the first thing the Korean community thought of (after "This makes us look bad - how embarrassing") was the stream of news reports over the past decade about bullying in Korean schools.

Photo from here.

For example, as this December 8, 2000 article tells us,
Bullying by classmates can be common for many Korean students and, to counter it, parents of a 12-year-old student have hired bodyguards for their daughter. A sixth-grader living in Seoul, who asked to be identified only as A, has gone to school since Nov. 30 with two bodyguards to protect her from bullies.
Unsurprisingly, some students don't deal with being bullied so well. One student, inspired, he said, by the film "Friend", took extreme measures, as this October 15, 2001 article tells us:
The police said the youth stole through the back door of his classroom Saturday morning holding a knife wrapped in a newspaper. He then stabbed his classmate, identified only as Park, in the back while Park listened to the lecture. Kim then quietly got up and walked out of the classroom.
The reason for this was that Park (who died on his way to the hospital) had been bullying Kim for some time. Six months later, it happened again. As this April 17, 2002 article tells us, a 14-year-old student at Ancheon Middle School
entered the classroom at the school around 2:40 p.m. and headed straight for the victim, another boy, witnesses said. The victim was hunched over his desk taking a test with the rest of the class when the youth drew a knife and stabbed him nine times in the back, neck and head. The teacher, shocked, screamed for him to stop, and the 31 other students fled the room in panic.

He told the police that the victim, who was also 14, had constantly beaten up his friends . The boy claimed that earlier Monday he had watched as a close friend was again beaten. He said in a fit of rage he ran to his home near the school, got a kitchen knife, returned to school and found the boy.
I suppose some of the stories, such as this one from September 2003, are not as gruesome:
The Jeongeup Police in North Jeolla province yesterday arrested a high school student accused of torturing a classmate by washing him in a washing machine.
Several stories relate the use of digital and cell-phone cameras when bullying students, as this February 16, 2004 article relates.
On Saturday, the student posted on his homepage two 16-minute excerpts edited from footage he videotaped with his digital camera. The edited cuts allegedly show five or six students slapping the head of a 16-year old boy who is bent over his desk alone. They grab his bag, curse at him, and take photos of his distressed face, ignoring the boy’s plea to stop.
Netizens were outraged by this and left comments on the school's website (as well as forcing the boy to close his homepage down). The authorities were not quite as concerned.
“One boy had just received a camera as a graduation gift and he was taking pictures, but the boy sitting at the desk was very shy and didn’t want to have his picture taken. They were just fooling around,” officials at the South Gyeongsang province’s education office said.
Some people treat the subject a little more seriously (including the principal of the aforementioned school, who killed himself). After describing the bullying of a 13 year old girl, and the way in which her entire school ostracized her, this February 24 2004 article tells us that
This scene is a frequent one these days in Korean schools. The syndrome is called “wang-ta,” a term applied to a victim of group cruelty or ignorance. “Every country has bullying students, but nowhere in the world can we find cases where the entire school harasses one student,” said Kwak Geum-ju, professor of psychology at Seoul National University.
Count on some parents of the tormentors to stand up for their right to torment:
When bullies were punished by teachers, their parents often protested, saying that the tormented child “deserved to be bullied.” [...] Circumstances are even worse for students who are poor or who have physical disabilities. The education ministry said that two out of three children with disabilities in 217 schools in Seoul have reported that they have been bullied.
In March of 2005, Police vowed that they would take on youth gangs who bullied and extorted their fellow students. A look at the Iljinhoe, as the gangs are called, can be found here, while this article relates a typical example of the gangs' behavior:
A seminar on school violence on Wednesday heard how four Iljinhoe girl students assaulted a fellow student in the bathroom of a certain Seoul middle school in March last year on grounds that she was arrogant. They took turns hitting her repeatedly in the face, the stomach and the legs. Such violent behavior is no different from that of gangsters.
An April 12, 2005 article described the suicide of a boy who was bullied:
A schoolboy who was thought to have committed suicide because he thought he was ugly in fact killed himself because of bullying at his middle school, his father said Tuesday. The 15-year-old seventh grader in Masan identified only as Hwang threw himself out of the window of his 18th floor apartment on April 19, 2002. He died in hospital a week later.
Another article on this topic mentioned that
School violence has become a public issue in recent months. Several government ministries recently announced policies to reduce bullying after a survey found that one out of 10 students had experienced violence at school.
An April 21, 2005 article relates just how brutal girls can be:
Two freshmen girls at an Incheon high school have been arrested for a brutal campaign of bullying against a classmate [...] they heated up a spoon with a disposable lighter and burnt Kim’s stomach. Then they used a felt-tipped pen to stab her thighs. They stripped her naked and poked her vagina and anus with writing utensils or twigs, taking pictures of the abuse with a digital camera. Kim did not cry out for fear of further brutality, police said.
Once again, we see the appearance of a digital camera. One appears in this June 8, 2005 article:
The recent attention given to the issue of school violence in Korea has done little to help one 14-year-old student, whose mother says he has been bullied so severely that she has decided to send him to school overseas.

Last year, she says, classmates stripped the boy naked during physical education class, then took pictures of him with their cell phones. He was beaten at least twice a day after classes, she says; classmates often delivered flying sidekicks to his chest.
One of the best known instances of using a cell phone camera was when a girl was beaten on camera in December of 2006. As this article and this article relate, the reason for the group assault on a lone girl was quite similar to the situation in New Zealand:
The group allegedly took the victim to an apartment of one of the suspects on Dec. 8 and held her there from 12 to 4 p.m., beating her nearly continuously. The leader of the gang told police that the group assaulted the girl because they thought she had spread rumors that caused the leader’s boyfriend to break off their relationship. The victim denied that claim, police said.

“Two members of the gang beat her up and the other two videotaped the scene with a cell phone camera to show it to other friends,” a police official said. “One of the gang sent the clip to another friend, who allegedly edited and posted the clip on the Internet.”

For a more positive story, this January 24, 2007 article (likely IE only) looks at a remarkable young woman who has tried to turn her horrible experiences of being bullied into something positive by helping other young victims of bullying.
In March 2005, based on the experience she had gained from running the Web site, Ms. Kim became the youngest counselor at the Prevention of Youth Violence Foundation. They keep records on the number of calls for help they receive. In the first six months of 2006 there were 1,771 calls. Over half of these came from middle school students, a figure that represented a 4.8 per cent increase on the previous year.
This, considering the article that started this post, is certainly worth considering:
She says she often hears of incidents far worse than what she went through. "Branding kids with cigarette burns is basic. There were incidents where the student's head was forced into a toilet bowl."
This article (link is dead) from early 2007 relates another story cigarette burns:
[P]olice in Sanggye-dong arrested two 16-year-old girls and a 14-year-old boy for attempting to force a 14-year-old to sell herself for sex. After she refused, the suspects kidnapped the victim for a day, beating her and burning her face with lit cigarettes [...].
Lit cigarettes were a method of coercion in another well known case:

Above is the June 2006 photo of the cigarette-burned hands of a runaway 14 year-old girl who was held captive for six months in Gwangju by an acquaintance and forced to have sex with 800 men; her captors can be seen in the background.

A February 27, 2008 article looked at the effects of violence on those who are bullied. Not everyone was so concerned about a boy who started to become violent after years of bullying:
“Other classmates bully each other, too,” [his] teacher said during an interview with the investigative team. “It’s not a big deal.”

An expert on school violence who was part of the TV program’s investigative team and did not disclose his name was less dismissive of school bullying. “The victim learns from the bully and bullies other classmates who are powerless,” he said.
This study of bullying in Korean schools (linked to at the Marmot's Hole), has lots of interesting information:
We found that 40% of all children participated in school bullying. By category, the prevalence of victims, perpetrators, and victim-perpetrators was 14%, 17%, and 9%, respectively. The most common subtypes of victimization were exclusion (23%), verbal abuse (22%), physical abuse (16%), and coercion (20%). Boys were more commonly involved in both school bullying and all 4 types of victimization. The prevalence of bullying was greater in students with either high or low socioeconomic status and in nonintact families.
The line in the last article about the cycle of violence meshes well with the category of "victim-perpetrators."

Perhaps we should return to the original article about the girls in New Zealand:
The attack has horrified Auckland's Korean community, which has strongly condemned the girls' behaviour and would be looking into the matter, a spokesperson said.
So what, after looking into the matter, did they conclude about the the girls?
Most of the assaulters have struggled to adjust to life in New Zealand, Sunday Star Times quoted John Cho, spokesperson for North Shore Korean community, as saying.

Some of the girls were living with one parent while the others were living with a homestay family. But all of them, including the victim, had become rebellious and had difficulty adapting to the extreme cultural differences, according to Cho.

It is not uncommon for young people to "get out of control'' when they move to New Zealand. New Zealand society is "too open'' compared to a conservative Asian culture where school children prioritized studies and were denied romantic relationships, Cho said. He added none of the girls had been in trouble before they came to the country.
Ah. So the problem of the girls "who held a 16-year-old girl captive for more than an hour while they punched, kicked and burnt her with cigarettes" has nothing to do with bullying being a huge problem in Korean schools, especially with group violence directed at individuals, where, unlike elsewhere in the world, "we find cases where the entire school harasses one student", and where "branding kids with cigarette burns is basic." Their behavior, according to Mr Cho, does not stem from the culture these girls brought with them, but has occurred due to the differences between New Zealand's "too open" society and the "conservative Asian culture" they came from. That the situation he describes may be a factor in their behavior I have no trouble accepting, but leaving out the fact that such behavior is not uncommon in Korea is either myopic or plain dishonest.

Another case worth looking at is the story of a 19 year-old Korean woman who was beaten by members of her church in Sydney in August of 2005.

I suppose this does beg the question: Where do all of these students get the idea that violence is an acceptable way to solve problems?


K said...

Wow again. Thanks.

Unknown said...

Look around, and observe how Korean adults interact with each other. Their behavior is often aggressive. Have you ever witnessed a car accident? There is always lots of screaming going on. I don't think young Koreans have to look far to witness this type of behavior. Factor in the pressure from parents to excel at school, play a musical instrument...etc.etc. Take a moment to watch young university students interact. It's not uncommon to see them hitting each other (supposedly all in fun).......hmmmm.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Quite shocking. I know that bullying exists in Korean schools, but I had no idea that it was widespread and could be so physically cruel (group beatings, cigarette burns, etc.).

I am not a psychiatrist, but I wonder if school bullying lays the groundwork for the hazing that takes place later in life among draftees in the Korean army?

Anonymous said...

“Every country has bullying students, but nowhere in the world can we find cases where the entire school harasses one student,” said Kwak Geum-ju, professor of psychology at Seoul National University.

Professor Kwak is half-right. We can find in other countries schools with students shunned, verbally, and physically harassed by the entire student body. In my high school, there were a few kids completely ostracized with no friends whatsoever for their entire school lives. Two of the kids had probably false rumors spread about them having sex with animals. Boys would neigh and whinny when a classmate of my brother's would walk down the hall. As a freshman, I thought it was funny, but looking back as an adult, I think that kid's life must have been hell, and he couldn't wait to pick up his diploma and get the f&ck outta Dodge. I got the f&ck outta that Podunk town, too, and haven't looked back.

Kids are kids the world over; the real difference isn't the kids but school staff tolerance of bullying. In US schools, bullying is usually taken seriously and school officials try to protect and help victims. I have not really heard much of interventions against bullying in Korea.

Quite shocking. I know that bullying exists in Korean schools, but I had no idea that it was widespread and could be so physically cruel (group beatings, cigarette burns, etc.).

Can't speak for every country but cigarette burns and videotaped group beatings posted to MySpace, Youtube, and the like are favorite methods of bullies in the US, too. A similar story of a group of girls videoing the beating and burning of a love rival made the front pages of the news in the US a week or so before this one.

The girls' violent behavior isn't a Korean thing. It's a juvenile thing.


Anonymous said...

in my country, school bullying is not much of an issue...infact most bullying i know are the ones i read on fictional books when i was in high school.....guess why??...well we africans have a very good home upbringing(unless u are from a home not a house)....especially being taught not to underestimate or maltreat someone cos you think you are bigger or better and also taught NOT to back down to whoever or whatever as long as we are right in the situation......am surprise to see such kind of stories of a group of girls beating and burning a fellow student with cigarette and group of boys bullying a fellow male students and things like bullying gang......if the school authority seem to be helpless cant those that are bullied form their own alliance and fight back??...i dont advocate violence but sometimes you got to do what you got to do......the few boys i knew that took that path(bullies) ended up in a very not good situation......one was even shot dead by the so called weak student friends( notorious street gang) the other big boy got beat up to coma by other bigger boys....one tasted military torture at 16......so if the school cant help, then get people you know to help you...simple...it may sound off the records but it is one way to keep such people in check