In the mid-2000s a number of English villages were opened in Korea to provide an immersion experience in which students could practice speaking English, with the first being opened in 2004 in Ansan, Gyeonggi-do. As this (and this) article notes, Seongnam English Town was opened in December 2005 in the Saemaeul Movement Central Training Center in Bundang and run by Edu Chosun (a subsidiary of the Chosun Ilbo). 6-day camps were attended by 250 local Grade 6 students at a time. It cost 350,000 won, of which 110,000 won was paid by participants and 240,000 won was subsidized by Seongnam City. Upon entering the village, students underwent a level test and were divided into 20 classes, and then spent 6 days with 24 native speaking teachers, 12 Korean teachers, and 4 safety teachers. (More on the Paju English Village can be read here in English.)
On May 24, 2006, the Segye Ilbo reported that "An allegation has been raised that a native-speaking teacher at Seongnam English Town sexually harassed students during class" and that "civic groups are demanding a fact-finding investigation and countermeasures".
The "Seongnam English Town Sexual Abuse Countermeasures Committee," composed of six Seongnam women’s groups and educational associations, claimed that day that some sixth grade girls from a Seongnam elementary school who were accepted into the Town complained to their parents that a Korean-American English teacher had made excessive physical contact with them.
The girls claimed that during an outdoor hiking activity, the teacher pulled the strings of the girls’ underwear, put his hand inside their clothes, stroked a certain part of their bodies, and stared excessively at their chests.
As a result, parent representatives and the school’s principal visited the English Town on May 5 to inform them of what had happened and demand the dismissal of the teacher.
The English Town authorities explained that the parents informed them that nine students had complained of inappropriate physical contact from one of their teachers. Though the facts were not clear and they stated that the teacher had only good intentions, the personnel committee there made a decision to dismiss the teacher, which the teacher did not accept, so he ended up voluntarily resigning on May 19.
In response, the countermeasure committee declared the English Town's measures to be insufficient and argued that it was not fulfilling promises to post an apology on the its website."
Later on May 24, in an article titled "Controversy over sexual harassment of elementary school students in Seongnam English Town"(and written by the secretary general of the Seongnam Secondary School Branch of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers' Union), Ohmynews provided more information about the case, particularly from a letter sent to the girls' elementary school on May 8.
"The instructor has resigned now, but he vehemently denies the fact of sexual harassment. In addition, our own investigation found that a female native-speaking teacher who was with the teacher in question testified that no sexual harassment took place." "However, even if it was done with good intentions, it is true that the students felt displeased, so the [hiking] program was done away with. In the future, we plan to come up with measures to prevent recurrence through sexual harassment prevention education for teachers." The official added, "Whether or not to make a public apology is a matter that requires permission from the head office, and the head office's position is that it is difficult to make a public apology in a situation where the statements of the relevant parties are in disagreement."
We are the foreign coordinators of Seongnam English Town and felt we should write and post our statement about the allegations of sexual harassment. [The Segye Ilbo article] was incorrect in two aspects – firstly, the teacher allegedly touched their bra strings through their clothes, as well as their shoulders, neck, upper back. The teacher alleges he was brushing off bugs, the students allege it was sexually motivated.Secondly, the teacher involved, from the beginning, has vehemently denied the accusations. He never admitted responsibility as the article originally claimed. He has since resigned but maintains his version of the story.
Statement on Accusations of Sexual Harassment at Seongnam English TownThe accusations made against a Korean-American English instructor at SNET have left all the instructors here feeling uneasy. Accusations of this nature are very serious and have been considered with due attention since the incident was first reported. The Canadian English Instructor who was facilitating the hiking class alongside the accused Instructor was consulted for her input and has maintained since the beginning that she had all the students in sight throughout the hike, and that she did not witness any inappropriate behaviour or language directed towards the students.Accusations of this nature are extremely difficult to substantiate, and the Instructor in question has maintained his innocence since the beginning. The students have also asserted the truth of their account. It is almost impossible to prove exactly what happened that day, and we have only the word of each party to judge by. The complete truth will likely never be known. That said, due to the discomfort of parents, teachers, students and the community, the Instructor was removed from the situation and has subsequently resigned from SNET.Without denying that the students had an upsetting experience, I think it is also important to recognize that there can be different intentions behind actions that result in a person feeling discomfort. Different people have very different comfort levels about their personal space and contact with their bodies. It could be the case that the Instructor did not intend to make the students feel uncomfortable, and was viewing them simply as children who needed some encouragement to join in the hike, but some action or words may have had a different effect on the students in question. Our obligation is to investigate this incident to ensure that the rights of all parties are respected. We have also talked with the staff about the nature of sexual harassment and are putting policy into place to ensure that an incident like this never happens again.May 23rd, 2006Seongnam English Town Coordinators
Six women and education organizations, including the 'Seongnam Women's Hotline', formed the 'English Village Sexual Harassment Countermeasure Committee' and viewed the sexual harassment incidents in Seongnam and Ansan as a structural problem and requested the authorities to prepare countermeasures. In most English villages, nighttime management for students is not performed well, and many teachers with untested qualifications are hired, which is likely to cause problems.
KTU: "Sexual harassment in English Village is a structural problem, we must strengthen public education"Regarding the recent successive cases of sexual harassment of students by English village teachers, the Gyeonggi branch of the National Teachers and Educational Workers' Union (KTU) said on the May 30, "Sexual harassment at English villages is structural problem deriving from unverified native speaking instructors," and insisted on strengthening public English education.The KTU's Gyeonggi branch said in a statement that day, "Regarding the sexual harassment in Seongnam and Ansan English Village, Gyeonggi Province Governor Sohn Hak-gyu announced that he would prepare measures to improve the overall English Village operating system to prevent recurrence." “However, because it is a structural problem deriving from unverified native speaking instructors, there is a potential for it to happen at any time.”The Gyeonggi branch of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union (KTU) stated the bases of this opinion as follows: ▲Anyone with a bachelor’s degree can become a native speaking instructor regardless of whether or not they have a teacher’s license ▲ Native speaking instructors’ unrestrained sexual consciousness and mode of expression ▲Native speaker instructors' lack of a sense of responsibility, since few feel they are answering a calling, but rather have as their goal to stay for a short time to experience Korean culture and build up their resumes.
An official from the Gyeonggi branch of the KTU said, "Educational effects cannot be achieved in a classroom with 40 native speakers per class." "If we set up English experience rooms at each school and increase the number of English teachers to reduce the number of students per class in English classes, the effect of English education in public education will increase."
In response, an official from Gyeonggi English Village said, "We feel entirely responsible for the drunk and inappropriate behavior of a Korean instructor at Ansan Camp," but added, "However, the claim of hiring unverified native English instructors, and the claim about their [lack of] educational sense is a distortion of the facts, as the qualities of foreign instructors at Gyeonggi English Village are recognized through a thorough preliminary verification process.”Meanwhile, Gyeonggi Province Governor Sohn Hak-kyu visited Anseong A Middle School, which the sexually harassed students attend, apologized, and conducted on-site inspections of Ansan Camp and Paju Camp.
First, I'll attempt to explain what I think Gyeonggi KTU was doing with the release.The English Villages in Gyeonggi were founded by Governor Sohn, who is an important member of the conservative Hanarra Party. Public education is not a big priority for Sohn or Hanarra, and the KTU used the publicity surrounding the incidents to score some easy political points against Sohn, and to promote public education. Worthwhile goals, in my opinion.But this is NOT an apology.Gyeonggi KTU is cynically exploiting the currents of xenophobia that exist in Korea, to its own ends. The release deliberately targeted ill-informed and biased newsreaders, and I was shocked that teaching professionals would do this. The statement attacks EVERY FOREIGN TEACHER IN KOREA.Unfortunately, despite appeals from various union members and foreign teachers, the Gyeonggi office has refused to retract their statement.As SOMEONE must accept responsibility for this inane and hateful piece of propaganda, I will resign from the KTU.