School violence has been reflected in various dramas and movies, but real life bullying cases are even worse than on-screen portrayal.
“The Glory”, starring Song Hye Kyo, is one of the hottest K-dramas at the moment and has been creating much buzz since season 1 was released on December 30th. It follows Moon Dong Eun (Song Hye Kyo), whose soul was shattered by brutal school violence in her childhood. She spends her entire youth preparing for revenge on the perpetrators.
Compared to other K-dramas, “The Glory” depicts the brutality of school bullying in Korea so realistically that some viewers wonder if the reality is as harsh or it was exaggerated to increase the drama’s tension. In fact, the disturbing bullying scenes in “The Glory” are actually based on real-life stories.
Real life stories are just as terrifying as what’s shown in “The Glory”
In the recent broadcast of MBC’s “News High Kick”, Choi Woo Sung, a school trustee at the Gyeonggi Suwon Education Office specializing in overseeing cases related to school violence, appeared as a guest. When asked if the scene where Moon Dong Eun is brutally bullied in “The Glory” with a hot curling iron is based on a true story, Choi replied, “Actually, reality is much worse.”
The triggering bullying scenes in “The Glory” are inspired by a terrifying school violence case that happened 17 years ago in Korea. It is known as the “hair iron bullying” case that took place at an all-girls high school in Cheongju in May 2006.
Backing up his remark, Choi cited official documents. Accordingly, in 2006, a group of bullies at a middle school in Cheongju reportedly tortured a student for about 20 consecutive days. The group led by Kim, then just 15 years old, beat up victim “A” with a baseball bat, burned her arms with a hair iron, and used clothespins to clip her chest.
Choi shared, “At that time, the victim suffered severe burns. Her tailbone came out. She needed to be hospitalized for 5 to 6 weeks. The perpetrators also confessed that they hurt the victim by using their fingernails to peel off young scales of skin on her scars.”
Choi also cited several other cases of violence involving minors at many other high schools in Korea.
For example, the bullying case at Yangsan Girls’ High School in 2021 about a foreign student being assaulted by a group of local middle school students. What’s more infuriating is that the perpetrator even filmed the victim and posted the video online.
In 2020, the bullying case at Cheonghak-dong dorm also shocked Koreans when the victim was forced to drink urine by a group of female students after they inserted objects into her body.
Most recently, the sexual assault case in North Gyeonggi in 2022 shocked the whole of Korea. A 12-year-old boy sexually assaulted a 9-year-old girl on a block of snow he made to look like a bed.
What makes these stories more haunting than they already are is that, according to Choi, most of the perpetrators are under the age of 14, an age that is still protected by the Korean criminal law.
“In all these cases, some or all of the perpetrators were minors under the age of 14, so there is a limit to their penalties. I agree that the standard age in punishment of minor offenders should be gradually lowered, as perpetrators are getting younger and their crimes are becoming more sophisticated and violent. At the same time, we need to work hard to prevent such incidents from happening in the first place,” said Choi.
Private school teachers ignore bullying in fear of parents
In a video published in March 2022, content creator Queentiwa discussed her experience of teaching in a private school in Korea. Her school is also known to be for the wealthy, with parents being either celebrities, doctors, or those with high positions in society.
According to Queentiwa, school bullying scenes in K-dramas are by no means exaggerated, and real cases are actually really common.
In addition, the content creator revealed that most teachers in the school would ignore these cases in fear of the parents, who are powerful and willing to hurt teachers over seemingly small matters.
“Every time I try to intervene, I get in trouble”, Queentiwa said, adding, “I had a student put a scissor to my neck.”
Meanwhile, Korea Herald said that according to a survey conducted in September 2020 with around 130,000 students in Korea, 0.6% admitted to having bullied fellow students at least once. The most common form of bullying was verbal abuse (39%), followed by group bullying (19.5%), stalking (10.6%), cyberbullying (8.2%), physical assault (7.7%), and sexual violence (5.7%).
In addition, after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, students become more “familiar” with electronics devices, leading to increasing rates of cyberbullying and smartphone bullying.
Regarding this, Lee Chang Ho, a senior research fellow at the National Youth Policy Institute (NYPI), disclosed his thoughts via an article on The Korea Times. “Unlike the initial-stage cyberbullying that was done anonymously on the internet, smartphone cyberbullying is usually done by an acquaintance”, he said.
According to Lee Chang Ho, many school bullies make ill use of KakaoTalk, a national chat platform with 4 million users. They would make a group chat room and intentionally leave out a specific person, or add a victim to a chatroom without their consent, and verbally abuse them there.
Meanwhile, on Facebook, bullies would spread rumors or photos with sexual contents to publicly shame their victims. The footage would remain online on a wide scale, leaving victims with long-term psychological trauma.
A survey published by the Korean government on September 6th, 2022, also showed that school violence within Korea has been on the rise since school reopened after the Corona pandemic.
“Schools have returned to normal, and now is an important time to prevent violence in schools,” said Vice Education Minister Jang Sang Yoon. He said the country’s Ministry of Education will prepare a nationwide school violence prevention plan by February 2023.
As a counter-act to such behavior, the Korean government also revised the criminal and juvenile laws, lowering the age of criminal responsibility from 14 years old to 13 years old.
On the other hand, Noh Yoon Ho, a lawyer specializing in school bullying lawsuits, believed that serious filmmakers may be able to raise awareness of school bullying among the public, amidst the reality that Korean schools are ignoring their students’ wrong-doing.
The lawyer also said that many students tend to ignore ongoing bullying cases in their schools in fear of getting involved or becoming the next victim. Their parents also tried to prevent their kids from speaking up over concerns about the children’s studies.
Overall, while media exposure helps, school bullying can only be prevented with the understanding and protection of adults towards victims, and when students cease being by-standers and ignorant of the victims’ suffering, said Noh Yoon Ho.