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Surge in dating violence among teenagers remains hushed

Posted May. 18, 2024 07:48,   

Updated May. 18, 2024 07:48


A middle school sophomore in Seoul named Kin Su-yeon (alias) began dating a high schooler in September last year. From the beginning of their relationship, the boyfriend exhibited controlling behavior, such as choosing what pictures of Kim to post on social media. He asked questions about Kim’s social media posts posted while the two weren’t together and her previous relationships, and eventually used abusive language and physical violence. Kim was even forced to engage in sexual relations without her agreement. Such dating violence had continued for over six months until Kim’s teacher made a report to the police in March this year.

Amid a series of relationship-related severe crimes, including a medical student’s recent murder of his girlfriend, dating violence among teenagers is on the rise. According to the Korean National Police Agency, the number of dating violence perpetrators in their teens rose from 277 in 2016 to 534 in 2023. The number of actual cases is estimated to be more as the police release statistics on those arrested for criminal charges, excluding the perpetrators who were released on warning or dealt with summary decisions, starting in 2022.

Teens experiencing dating violence find it difficult to report the issue due to the social perception that frowns upon adolescents having relationships. As their relationships are largely tabooed, victims often suffer on their own while the issue becomes more serious. Kim’s case was also identified during a consultation session with a teacher on a different topic.

“When asked what is the most difficult about sharing the issue with adults, the victims say they are afraid to disappoint the adults, or they feel like they have done something they shouldn’t have as a teenager,” said Park Ye-lim, the policy team chief of the Korea Women's Hot Line. Many adolescents think that the issue is the fact that they engaged in relationships against the adults’ advice, rather than violence exercised by the perpetrators.

In particular, there are many cases where the victims give up on reporting sexual crimes as they are afraid of their parents finding out. Once a police investigation begins, the parents and other legal representative of the victims must be notified. “We need to ensure that the victims receive proper legal support by notifying a child welfare institution of an investigation first,” said Lee Hyun-sook, the head of Tacteen Naeil.

While the victims are hesitant to make a report, dating violence often leads to digital crimes where the perpetrators make threats to release pictures or videos of the victims taken while the two were in a relationship in addition to physical violence. “Kids these days have a culture of posting and recording everything,” said Ham Gyeong-jin, a department head of the Aha Sexuality Education & Counseling Center. “Digital sexual crimes are bound to happen more in intimate closed relationships.”

Criminal punishment of the perpetrators of teenage dating violence cases is not easy. The Act on Punishment of Crime of Stalking is not applicable unless there is continuous stalking behavior, violence, and threats made during relationships that are hard to verify, and the perpetrators in their teens are often dismissed on warning by the police.

In the case of a 20-year-old man beating his ex-girlfriend to death in Geoje, South Gyeongsang Province last month, eleven reports were made on violence during the three years that the two dates in high school. However, the cases were dismissed, and only reports were made to the police as the victim expressed her desire not to punish the perpetrator.

Experts say in unison that consultation should be mandatory for both victims and perpetrators to root out dating violence among teenagers. “The perpetrators continue to exercise violence as they are unaware of what was wrong with their behavior or they believe no punishment will be done to them,” said Ham. “Proper consultation and correction should be performed as adolescence is a critical period to prevent future crimes from being committed in adulthood. Some schools suggest developing a response manual on dating violence, rather than hushing teenage relationships.

김소민 somin@donga.com