Saturday, December 31, 2022

My 2009 Korea Herald articles

While looking through old posts for this series, I realized that my Korea Herald articles from 2009 are no longer online. I decided to post them all here. I've included the original urls, even though they're now dead links. Matt Lamers was then working at the Herald and welcomed these articles (as he did the cover story for this issue - which he cowrote with Ben Wagner and me - when he worked for Groove Magazine). 

Data says it all: E-2s are law abiding
Korea Herald, October 6, 2009

On Sept. 24, Yonhap News reported that National Assembly Representative Lee Gun-hyeon had released crime statistics pertaining to native-speaking English teachers and stated that crime by foreign English teachers was at "serious" levels. I find it curious that he thinks this way, because according to the statistics he released, the foreign English teacher crime rate is actually quite low. 

These statistics say that 114 crimes were committed by foreign English teachers in 2007, and 99 were committed in 2008. According to the Korea Immigration Service, in 2007 there were 17,721 teachers on E-2 visas working in Korea, and in 2008 there were 19,771 teachers. Therefore, in 2007, 114 out of 17,721 teachers were convicted - a crime rate of 0.64 percent. In 2008, 99 out of 19,771 teachers were convicted - a crime rate of 0.50 percent.

According to a July 9, 2008 Chosun Ilbo article, the Korean Institute of Criminology reported that in 2007 the overall crime rate among all foreigners in Korea was 1.4 percent compared with the 3.5 percent rate among Korean citizens. 

In other words, according to Lee Gun-hyeon`s own figures, the foreign English teacher crime rate (0.64 percent) was more than five times less than the crime rate among Koreans (3.5 percent) in 2007 and half the rate of other foreigners living in Korea. 

And yet, for some reason Lee calls this low crime rate "serious" and in need of more measures - beyond the criminal record checks, degree checks, and health checks for illegal drugs and HIV that those who receive E-2 visas must already undergo.

Unfortunately, Lee is not the only member of the National Assembly to make exaggerated statements regarding foreign English teachers. In early June, Representative Choi Young-hee submitted three bills to the National Assembly obliging foreign English teachers to present criminal record and health check documents before they can be hired at public or private schools or academies. 

When she announced these bills, she said that 38,822 foreigners were issued E-2 visas and entered the country in 2008, but 22,202 were not accounted for. That the Korean Immigration Service had lost track of 22,202 foreign English teachers was troubling information, to be sure, but what was even more troubling was that she used the wrong set of immigration statistics to determine this figure. 

The source she used was a document listing those entering and leaving Korea by visa type, which presents a much higher figure than the statistics which list the number of foreigners residing in the country. The correct statistics for 2008 show that at year`s end, there were 19,771 foreigners in Korea on E-2 visas. 

It likely doesn`t need to be pointed out that mistakenly announcing that 22,202 foreign English teachers are missing is likely to cause undue worry and suspicion in Korean society of this group of foreigners, but when the Korean Immigration Service pointed out this mistake to Choi`s office, no correction was ever issued.

Additionally, the purpose statements of the three bills Choi submitted to the National Assembly stated that "the crime rate among native English teachers is rising." Representative Kim`s own crime figures, however, show that 114 teachers were arrested for crimes in 2007, 99 were arrested in 2008, and 61 were arrested in the first eight months of 2009. 

If the trend for 2009 continues for the rest of the year, not only would we see a drop in the crime rate over three years, we would also see a drop in the absolute number of teachers being arrested - hardly indicative of the "rising crime rate" Choi uses as the rationale for introducing these new bills.

Lee said that "recent crimes by foreign English teachers are causing the anxiety of students and parents to grow." It might be suggested that it is instead ill-informed, unfounded, and alarming statements made by public figures like Lee and Choi which are contributing to this rise in "anxiety" students and parents are said to feel towards foreign English teachers.

The opinions expressed by the author are his own and do not necessarily represent those of The Korea Herald. More of his writings can be found at - Ed. 

By Matt VanVolkenburg                                           (Here is the related blog post.)

Putting statistics on foreign crime into some context
Korea Herald, November 3, 2009

Public outrage in the wake of a high-profile case of child abuse has led members of the National Assembly to turn a spotlight on possible threats to children and end the lax judicial treatment of sex offenders. While this is to be applauded, the manner in which this has been carried out has at times been careless.

On Oct. 19, National Assembly Representative Woo Yoon-keun said that the number of sexual crimes by foreign nationals had tripled over the past eight years, rising from 83 in 2001 to 242 in 2008. While this information is troubling, it would seem less so if the Rep. Woo had bothered to put any of this information in context. Considering the foreign population at the end of 2008 was 1.15 million, those 242 crimes result in a sex crime rate of 20.8 per 100,000. When compared to statistics from the Supreme Prosecutors Office which show the sex crime rate of Korean citizens in Korea to be 108 per 100,000, we see that the foreign sex-crime rate is five times less.

But this is not an entirely accurate portrayal of these statistics. If it can be agreed that children and the elderly tend not to commit crimes, then it`s worth looking at the demographics of the Korean and foreign populations in Korea. 

According to the CIA, children under 15 and elderly people over 64 make up 27.6 percent of the population of Korea. According to Korean Immigration Service figures, children under 16 and elderly over 60 make up 8.2 percent of the foreign population. If these low crime demographics are removed when making calculations, the foreign sex crime rate is 22.7 per 100,000 foreigners, and 151.7 per 100,000 Koreans - meaning in this case that the foreign sex-crime rate is 6.6 times lower. 

While some news media reports in the past have been responsible in pointing out that the rising crime rate among foreigners in Korea is still much lower than that of Korean citizens, Rep. Woo has not put his worrying figures into context. Unfortunately, Rep. Woo is not the sole political voice guilty of this. On Oct. 22, it was reported that the Ministry of Justice had announced it would "revise immigration rules to ban foreigners found guilty of raping Korean children from re-entering Korea permanently," and that this was "the latest in a series of government measures to keep sexual predators away from society."

It`s unfortunate that this discussion of how to protect Korean society from sex crimes, when discussing foreigners, has focused only on past and possible sex crimes committed by foreigners against Koreans and omitted sex crimes that Koreans commit against foreigners. 

A 2006 study, conducted on the behalf of the National Assembly Committee on Gender Equality, looked at the sexual activities of Korean men visiting Thailand and the Philippines and found that Korean men were known for habitually doing drugs and seeking out underage girls to have sex with. 
The National Youth Commission found in 2005 that Korean fishermen were largely responsible for the existence of a teen prostitution industry in the South Pacific nation of Kiribati. A 2003 survey conducted by the National Human Rights Commission found that 12.5 percent of female foreigners working in Korea said they had been sexually harassed by Korean superiors or colleagues. One wonders why more consideration isn`t being given to such sex crimes against foreigners and the need to prevent and punish them.

While every effort should be taken to protect Korean children from sex crime and punish its perpetrators, it is troubling that the only available role for foreigners in the current debate is as potential criminals. Reading such alarming statements about foreigners being made in the National Assembly, one wonders of Korea`s elected representatives truly want, as Justice Minister Lee Kwi-nam recently put it, "to realize a genuinely mature cosmopolitan nation," or if they see foreigners as a threat in much the same manner as the country north of the 38th parallel. 

The opinions express here are the author`s only and do not necessarily represent those of The Korea Herald. For more of Matt VanVolkenburg`s writings, go to - Ed.

By Matt VanVolkenburg                                           (Here is the related blog post.)

Systematically stigmatizing foreign English teachers
Korea Herald, November 20, 2009

In January 2005, Korean netizens discovered "dirty dancing" style photos taken at a "sexy costume party" at the foreign English teacher site English Spectrum which led to a scandal as the photos were spread by netizens and reported in the mainstream media. These netizens started an online "Naver Cafe" called "Anti-English Spectrum" to combat what they described as "the degradation of Korean women by English Spectrum," though, according to one of the women who appeared in the widely distributed party photos, "Some online articles and the Anti-English Spectrum cafe said we were prostitutes, western princesses and brothel keepers," suggesting that there were other motives.

Anti-English Spectrum, described on their website as "The Citizen`s Movement to Expel Illegal Teachers of Foreign Languages," attempted to disguise their true nature in 2007 by changing their website banner showing Korean nationalist heroes and the caption "Our homeland is protected by the blood of our ancestors" to one showing a child at a blackboard with the title "The Citizen`s Group for Upright English Education." 

Their day to day activities, which consist of race-based profiling and stalking of foreigners, have not changed, however. Anti-English Spectrum`s website is full of updates about foreign teachers that they are "pursuing" based on tips alleging illegal activity. A post on Oct. 14 about the "stakeout" of a female foreign teacher said, "Drugs have not turned up, only a used condom was found," suggesting they search through teachers` garbage. 

In a recent interview, the cafe`s manager even suggested that, instead of calling the police, people who want to report foreign teacher crime should "go through our cafe members (so) we can advise you and alert police." This behavior, however, has not been condemned, but was officially rewarded by the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency in 2007. 

Cafe members claim to have contributed to numerous newspaper articles and news broadcasts. To be sure, interviews with the cafe`s manager -- who invariably portrays foreign teachers negatively -- have appeared in articles in most of Korea`s major newspapers.

In the summer of 2006, an innocuous news report about rates of voluntary HIV testing among foreigners which mentioned English teachers led the cafe to begin a campaign to stigmatize foreign English teachers as being an AIDS threat. On Anti-English Spectrum`s site, they posted that "foreigners infected with AIDS have been indiscriminately spreading the AIDS virus" and -- perhaps revealing their true concern -- that "Koreans who have had sexual contact with a foreigner will almost all contract AIDS." 

They then worked with a tabloid newspaper and produced a story about the threat of AIDS-infected foreign English teachers which called for strengthening E-2 visa regulations, which was then used as evidence there was a problem when cafe members sent petitions to the Ministry of Justice. An e-mail sent during a bad breakup was pitched by Anti-English Spectrum as the basis of a story carried by a major newspaper in May 2007 titled "White English Teacher Threatens Korean Woman with AIDS," which in its Sports edition carried the subtitle "Beware the `Ugly White Teacher.`" 

That a major newspaper would publish this was shocking, but not as shocking as the fact that the manager of Anti-English Spectrum was invited to an immigration policy meeting hosted by the Ministry of Justice on Oct. 23, 2007. It was this meeting that decided upon strengthened E-2 visa regulations, including HIV tests, something that Anti-English Spectrum -- who had contributed to all of the past negative news articles equating foreign English teachers with AIDS -- had requested in petitions for the past year. 

That this campaign was designed not to protect children or unsuspecting Korean women, but to stigmatize foreign English teachers is suggested by the fact that when an HIV positive Korean man who had unprotected sex with numerous women for years was arrested in March, it didn`t merit a single word on Anti-English Spectrum`s website. 

The opinions expressed by the author are his own and do not necessarily represent those of The Korea Herald. More of his writings can be found at - Ed. 

By Matt VanVolkenburg                                           (Here is the related blog post.)

(Note that the last article was published on the same page as "Blurring line between hate, free speech" by Adam Walsh, which was an in-depth look at Anti-English Spectrum; it initially was to include an interview with Lee Eun-ung, AES's leader, but Lee refused permission to print it, and AES successfully demanded the images taken from AES's site be removed from the online article. It was reposted at the Korea Herald's site in March 2010; this is how the two articles looked on the printed page.)

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