Thursday, December 22, 2022

Anti-English Spectrum begins to link foreign English teachers to AIDS

  The Rise and Fall of E-2-visa HIV testing in South Korea, 1988 - 2017

Part 1: The 1988 Olympics and Korean fears of AIDS
Part 2: HIV testing for foreigners in the aftermath of the 1988 Olympics (unfinished)
Part 3: Anti-English Spectrum begins to link foreign English teachers to AIDS (2006)Part 5: Using their own articles, Anti English Spectrum petitions for E-2 visa changes (2006)

Part 3: Anti-English Spectrum begins to link foreign English teachers to AIDS

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s foreigners on entertainment visas (known as the E-6 visa after 1993) needed to provide HIV-free papers upon arrival or face HIV testing in Korea after an amendment to the AIDS Act came into effect in 1989, and in 1994 this requirement was expanded to foreign workers entering Korea to become "industrial trainees"; those in the country already would be subject to in-country tests, and new arrivals would need to submit HIV-free papers or be tested on arrival.

By the mid 1990s a new group of foreigners in Korea became increasingly visible, especially as the EPIK program began placing them in public schools - foreign English teachers. One politician who took early note of them was future Democratic Party leader Kim Han-gil, who wrote in mid 1997 of illegal teachers, "As they enter the country on tourist visas, they do not have to take AIDS or drug tests." He also later said in regard to these teachers that "Elementary school students are defenseless before things like AIDS," and "That they don't even have to take drug or AIDS tests in particular and are entering the country and teaching children in hagwons or homes is a serious problem."

Though immigration statistics revealed 7,607 teachers on E-2 visas at the end of 1997, the financial crisis that year would have seen many leave by year's end. Including illegal teachers, there may have been 10,000 or more teachers before the crisis (I'd estimate around 9,000 on E-2 visas), but Rep. Kim estimated that there were 70,000. In his comments on the need for drug and AIDS testing, and in saying that "the reason white men really like Korea is to chase after Korean women," Rep. Kim was ahead of his time in painting foreign teachers as a moral problem. The rest of society would catch up in 2005 during the English Spectrum incident, when that website's photos of a sexy costume party and "Ask The Playboy" column raised the ire of netizens and led to the formation of the netizen group "Anti-English Spectrum", who soon rebranded themselves as "Citizen's Movement to Expel Illegal Foreign Language Instructors." It was only in 2006, however, that another article would appear (since Kim Han-gil's in 1997) mentioning both foreign English instructors and AIDS.

On August 14, 2006 the Donga Ilbo published an article titled "Foreign AIDS infection rate 10 times that of domestic." This article bases that statement on statistics revealing that the 2005 rate of HIV infection among Koreans was 1.4 per 100,000, while the rate among foreigners in Korea was 11.1 per 100,000. It then notes the problem that illegal immigrants aren't tested, and so could be a source of further infections. One paragraph reads:
There are six HIV counseling centers in Korea that are available for Koreans, but for foreigners there is only one place: the international HIV/AIDS clinic in Itaewon, Seoul. An official at the [Itaewon] clinic said, "Mostly white collar foreigners, such as English teachers, visit our clinic, and we have almost no illegal immigrant foreigners."
Two years earlier, in February 2004, the Joongang Daily had reported on the testing center in Itaewon:
In a nondescript building on a busy street near Itaewon, one AIDS help center for foreigners quietly set up shop a year ago. The only way to find the location is if you know where it is. They don’t advertise their presence, having a sign that displays only the group’s acronym. 
“We had so much difficulty finding a building owner who would let us sign a lease,” says Nalina Taneja, a counselor there. To get their current office space, they hid that they were an AIDS organization. The other tenants are still unaware that the office space is for AIDS counseling. 
The organization was created to fill a need in the foreign community by offering help while maintaining confidentiality. The center answers questions about HIV testing, prevention and treatment in English, Hindi, Urdu and Korean. 
Returning to the August 2006 Donga Ilbo article, the underlying idea of the article was that getting tested is beneficial to public health, and the fact that illegal immigrants were not getting tested was a problem.

Another article mentioning foreign teachers and AIDS appeared a month later, titled "AIDS is not a disease to hide any longer" and published by Breaknews on September 7. A day later, it was reposted at the website of the Korean Alliance to Defeat AIDS:
Kim Ji-yeong of the AIDS Prevention Center says without hesitation that “Korea’s men are the biggest victims of AIDS.” After seeing the attitude of a foreign English teacher after he/she found out that he/she was infected with AIDS, she says that she was very shocked by the difference in thinking that is still deeply rooted in our society.[...]

"There is too much of a clear difference in the way people view the disease and how they view those who are infected, and therefore it is a reality that people infected with AIDS within our society can only live buried under the shadows. It is now time to pull them up out into the light, and altogether be concerned and find a solution together.[...]
However, those working at the Daegu branch of the AIDS Prevention Center say that the inveterate thinking of our society that is influenced deeply by Confucian views on sex is extremely difficult to improve. Double-standards regarding sex, and excessive sexual contact purely for pleasurable pursuits that are loudly bragged about as if relating heroic stories … these are the structural ironies of our society’s thinking.
In a mostly unpublished interview for this article, the aforementioned Kim Ji-yeong of the AIDS Prevention Center explained why she was 'shocked' [thanks to Adam Walsh for sharing this]:
In 2005, a foreign English teacher came to our center for a HIV/AIDS test. The result was positive. When we informed him with the results, he was rather calm and said it wasn’t a "big deal" and told us he was going to go back to the States after a week. He further mentioned that he wasn’t too shocked with the results because he was taught since elementary school that HIV/AIDS is not fatal if taken good care of. This was quite surprising for me since the reaction was so different from Koreans. Normally when Koreans are informed of such a result, they start crying and act as if it's the end of the world.
On August 15, 2006, the day after the article "Foreign AIDS infection rate 10 times that of domestic" appeared at both and, two comments were left at the article at Naver by m2t24 - Lee Eun-ung, the leader of "Citizen's Movement to Expel Illegal Foreign Language Instructors," or Anti-English Spectrum.

While the other comments discussed illegal immigrants, his had a different focus. In the first comment, he wrote,
So, at the counseling center, they say that there are many native speaking instructors... Parents, let's raise awareness.
Seven minutes later, he wrote,
It is funny. Why would an educator be visiting an AIDS counseling center? ... Native speaker English instructors!! Parents, your children are being exposed to danger.

On September 9, almost four weeks later, Lee wrote a post on the Anti English Spectrum site titled "This is serious!!! (Concerns about AIDS after sex with foreigner teacher)". In it, he wrote:
Not long ago I read in a Donga Ilbo news article that mostly white collar white people and foreign instructors visted an AIDS counseling center in Itaewon. [...] Seeing this case, it was very serious. There are too many people trembling from the fear of AIDS after having sex with foreign English instructors - men and women... 
Now the problem of low quality native speaking instructors has reached as far as AIDS. For your information, native speaking fake instructors who come to Korea on tourist visas pose a great danger because, unlike E-2 visas, they don't submit proof of medical history.
There are counseling cases - cases of men and women! Really, what arises from the shadows?
This was followed by stories written by two Korean women, with the source not stated: 
I had sex with a foreigner instructor I met by chance when I went to a bar (a Canadian instructor at a children’s English hagwon).
We used a condom but we also had oral sex (he did not ejaculate in my mouth). I am so afraid that I cannot sleep. I am too afraid that I could not even go to get tested.
In the case of foreigner teachers, do they get health tests when they enter the country?

Normally I am never involved in promiscuous sexual relationships… It was just this one time, and I am so, so worried.

If by any chance that foreigner has AIDS, would I also be infected? I am so worried that I have even lost my appetite.
Please give me an answer.


I had sex with a foreigner instructor one week ago. I got to know him as an Internet friend and met up with him… we had some drinks and I went to that friend’s home… This friend lives in OO, and his character is lively and vivacious… He said that he’s been teaching English at a hagwon in Korea for one year.

I don’t know… He came to Korea and has been here up until now… and his friends also seem to be okay…

But then I had sex once with this friend and in the middle of it he started to bleed, so we stopped and we cleaned our genitals and went to sleep… Later on, he told me that it was because he had weak blood vessels… and that he had allergies… he is 22 years old… I don’t have any recent sores around my genitals, but we did not use any condoms… He said that it was his first time with a Korean.
These comments were left by members at the bottom of the page:
메머드: That is really serious… AIDS after [sexual] relations…
가온: I think it would be a good idea to get tested.
메머드: It would be essential for you to get various tests, including tests for STDs, when you get married…
As is noted in this Breaknews / Inside Story article, which was published later,
The reason why 'Inside Story' decided to report on this issue was because we received information about an AIDS Counseling Center online bulletin board where many Korean women were continuously submitting complaints about their anxieties regarding AIDS infections after having sex with a foreigner.
This 'AIDS Counseling Center online bulletin board' was the likely source of the above stories, but instead of trying to assuage their anxieties, AES used these stories to spread such anxieties as widely as they could.

The same day a look at how AIDS tests operate within the visa system was posted, with the focus on how illegal foreign teachers on tourist visas do not receive health tests.

In a post the next day about a native English teacher 'AIDS horror story', readers were told "There is an 'AIDS horror story' saying that infected foreigners are indiscriminately spreading the virus."

[A full page but less readable screen shot is here.]
Have you heard of the native speaker English teacher AIDS horror story…

The truth behind the “AIDS horror story” circulating around Itaewon.

Infected foreigners are indiscriminately spreading [AIDS].
The “AIDS horror story” of Itaewon.

Recently, there is an “AIDS horror story” - saying that “foreigners infected with AIDS have been indiscriminately spreading the AIDS virus” - that has been circulating around places where foreigners gather, such as Itaewon. The rumor says that AIDS infected people are deliberately approaching people to have sex in order to spread the AIDS virus.

Recently, an “AIDS horror story” that is being spread around Itaewon, says that some foreigners who are infected with AIDS have been deliberately approaching other foreigners or Koreans in places such as nightclubs with the goal of spreading the AIDS virus.

It is said that those infected with AIDS have various citizenships and jobs, and include foreign workers, native speaker English teachers, nightclub dancers, etc. Other than those foreigners who reside in Korea, there are also foreigners who are said to visit Korea temporarily in order to spread the AIDS virus – they stay for a little while and then leave the country.

One waiter “A” who works at an Itaewon nightclub that has many foreigner patrons, says, “Recently, there is an AIDS horror story that has been circulating around nightclubs where foreigners tend to gather. However, because nobody knows who is infected with AIDS or not, suspicions only grow larger.”

The methods that these AIDS-infected foreigners mostly use are deliberate sexual relations and deliberate blood donations.

In the case of deliberate blood donations, the possibility of the AIDS-infected person being revealed is high, and [therefore] his or her personal identity will be exposed, so this rumor is a bit unbelievable.

However, in the case of deliberate sexual relations, it is easy to approach people and difficult to expose [the identity of] the person, so it is said that the possibility of AIDS-infected foreigners choosing this method is high.

However, it is not known yet whether a foreign AIDS-infected peoples’ organization is responsible for inciting these people, or whether it is the infected foreigners within Korea just working among themselves. The only truth known from the rumor is that these people are spreading AIDS in order make their existence known. 
The waiter “A” says, “These AIDS-infected people also deliberately spread the virus in order to let their existence be known.” He goes on to explain, “I heard the rumor that some people spread AIDS because they feel it is ‘unfair to suffer alone’ and also it is very certain that there are foreigners who are infected with AIDS.”

An official at the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention said, “There is little probability that someone will be infected by AIDS as long as that person does not have sex with a foreigner. However, if the rumors are true, then Koreans who have had sexual contact with a foreigner will almost all contract AIDs.”
To help support this Lee added a photo (since removed) and text taken from this article posted at the website of the Korean Alliance to Defeat AIDS on September 8 (originally published by Breaknews on September 7):
Kim Ji-young of the AIDS Prevention Center says without hesitation that “Korea’s men are the biggest victims of AIDS.” After seeing the attitude of a foreign English teacher after he/she found out that he/she was infected with AIDS, she says that she was very shocked by the difference in thinking that is still deeply rooted in our society.
By this point Lee had twice taken a reference to foreign English teachers and AIDS and removed it from its original neutral or, in this case, positive context and used it to give support to the idea that foreign English teachers have AIDS, and that "Koreans who have had sexual contact with a foreigner will almost all contract AIDs."

Similar versions of the 'Itaewon AIDS horror story' can be found more recently here and here. Of course, I couldn't see the term 'AIDS horror story' (에이즈 괴담) without being reminded of the 'mad cow horror stories' that helped set off last year's mad cow protests - something also noticed at this blog at It might also be worth noting that the story of an American missionary who injects a Korean boy with 'deadly germs' in order to kill him - in Han Sorya's 'Jackals' (1951) - is one of North Korea's most enduring novels. [See B.R. Myers' presentation here.]

The same day the 'AIDS horror story' was posted, September 10, a picture of an 'AIDS mummy' was also posted.

As should be clear, Anti-English Spectrum's method was to take whatever snippets of information they could find which might imply a connection between foreign English teachers and AIDS and spin them in the worst possible way in order to create fear, and considering how taboo a topic AIDS is in Korea, creating fear - and interest - was not difficult to do.

On September 15 Lee wrote a post titled "Things are about to take off!"

This low quality native speaker teacher story is no joke. It is a big deal on Dreamwiz and Agora also...

Soon the AIDS native speaking teacher issue will take off... Get ready to freely spread the resources and original materials. Low quality native speaking teachers and AIDS... It was the truth!!!!!111111111111111 Please wait and see.
On September 18, Lee put up this post, titled "Breaknews (AIDS foreign instructor) wide distribution!!!"

"Today it's come! Till now [the idea that English instructors are AIDS infected] hadn't risen from the internet! The report's in terminals, convenience stores, subways!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

The article Lee is describing, which he contributed too, and which he is interviewed in, is the Breaknews / Inside Story article "Tracking [down] blacklisted foreign teachers suspected of having AIDS," which is translated here.

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