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School Bullying in South Korea

Written by: Sarah Le

Edited by: Ariana Pedraza

It is a universal goal to eliminate school bullying out of the dictionary of the educational system. Contrasting with the significant improvements in Western nations, Asian countries still have to deal with an enormous amount of school bullying situations. In fact, there was recently a series of scandals involving past school bullying in the South Korean music industry where celebrities were at the brink of their career being destroyed.

Bullying is defined as “unwanted, aggressive behaviors among school aged children that involve a real or perceived power imbalance [that could be repeated]” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). There are three types of bullying: verbal, social, and physical. The form and severity varies from spreading rumours, isolating individuals, mocking, and teasing to sexual harassment and violent activities causing serious injuries or even deaths. In the U.S., school bullying is very common and severe. About 20% of students from age 12 to 18 experience this. Countries around the world experience this as well.

In South Korea specifically, the crisis is more severe than ever. 30% of students from elementary, middle, and high schools are reported as victims of school bullying. Additionally, the issue has become a common theme for movies. The ugliest brutalities are exposed fully for entertainment to audiences across the globe. Some most well-known Korean dramas include: Han Gong-ju (2013), School 2013, The Heirs (2013), Who Are You: School 2015,and Angry Mom (2015), among others.

These movies take place in school environments and generate the clearest pictures of the real problems involving the wide-spread school bullying that students in South Korea have to face. Victims of bullying are affected negatively with often long-lasting effects. The most common include mental health problems like depression and anxiety, decreased academic achievements, and physical and social problems.

Cinematic platforms are not the only form of art used to raise awareness on this severe issue. Musicians are also delivering the message of the anti-bullying to their fans. Ironically, countless scandals of celebrities’ school bullying pasts are dominating the top search on the Internet for the past month. It is not rare to see top influencers being involved in bullying accusations, and now spreading these messages. Some of these scandals, of course, could be sparked without any reliable evidence. However, the issue is recently being discussed more seriously than ever. A very large number of victims have come out to take a stand and advocate for their experiences and the experiences of others who were bullied by these pop culture figures.

One of the most scandalous and complicated situations recently brought to light involved Kim Soojin - an ex-member of the girl group band (G)I-DLE. An anonymous netizen accused Soojin of stealing and physically bullying her classmates. Soojin was also described by her old schoolmates as a kid who stood out, who wore inappropriate outfits, hung out with the uneducated group and cursed at other students for no reason. Kim Soojin herself denied all these accusations while her agency threatened to sue anyone spreading fake rumours of their artist. However, the alleged victim was not scared into silence, but instead hired lawyers to bring the truth to light. Another rumour with this Kpop star involved a well-known actress Seo Shin-ae. Seo Shin-ae went to the same school with Kim Soojin and was rumoured to be bullied by Soojin during her school year there. At present the verification process is still going on and allegations and rumours are spreading like wildfire on the Internet.

Kim Soojin’s agency announced they would temporarily halt the star’s musical activities until the conclusive result was reached. This has negatively impacted her career potential as right after the bullying controversy, many of Kim Soojin’s commercial contracts were forced to end. More specifically, a few days before the allegation was made, Kim Soojin was announced as the new brand ambassador of Peripera - a global cosmetic company. As the controversies involving the singer gained traction, Peripera had removed all images of Soojin from their social campaign. This shows the severity of school bullying effects on celebrities’ careers.

Another allegation involved Korean drama star Kim Ji Soo who was accused of perpetrating school violence. He was accused of sexual violence and bullying during his school years from 2006 to 2008 by his classmates. An anonymous user online has come out claiming to be a victim of “all kinds of school violence like being made an outcast, violence, blackmailing, insults, and abusive language” (Distractify Staff). Not long after that, the actor released an apology letter, admitting his brutalities in the past without specifying any of the claims from the victims. His role in the currently producing drama, River Where The Moon Rises, was then replaced which resulted in an enormous loss as the filming process was almost completed. Kim Jisoo’s agency then announced the military enlistment of the actor in the coming weeks, marking the hiatus of him for at least 2 years.

The #MeToo-concept controversies in South Korea have shone a completely different light to the country’s entertaining industry. With countless rumours and scandals involving school bullying, the issue has received more attention, asking for more effective policies to prevent bullying. That leaves the burning question we all want the answer to- what could we do to minimize and eliminate school bullying out of the society? It is a complicated process which requires a huge amount of engagement from teachers, students and families. Some ideas include establishing laws to ensure a safe educational environment, providing a hotline for help when bullying occurs, educating individuals to acknowledge the serious consequences of school bullying, preparing equal school equipment accessibilities for students, and more. Collaboration and sharing the same goals will hopefully bring a brighter future to the education system while erasing school bullying out of the dictionary of our society.