A series of claims accusing celebrities, athletes and everyday people of school violence is spreading like wildfire in South Korea via social media. The pervasiveness of the problem is being highlighted after professional volleyball athletes and twin sisters Lee Jae-young and Lee Da-yeong, admitted to charges they bullied fellow athletes. The wave of disclosure labeled the “School #MeToo” movement is encouraging more victims to come forward, sending stark warnings to wrongdoers by posting about their actions on SNS and petitioning the government for compensation for damages.
Recently, a string of victims alleged that they were bullied by celebrities when they were in school. As allegations of school violence started pouring in, some stars owned up to their past actions, while others have denied the allegations against them and vowed to take legal action against their accusers. The impact of these allegations is severe for the guilty party. KBS agreed to remove actor Ji soo from the weekday historical romance “River Where the Moon Rises” after he admitted and apologized for wrongdoings during his teenage years.
|▲ Illustration of school violence #MeToo movement (Photo from Yonhap News)|
Proponents of the school #MeToo movement believe the social crusade is beneficial. It teaches students that actions they take can have long lasting consequences that can haunt them decades. Their actions today may restrict them from chasing their dreams in the future and can even put the brakes on their careers.
While proponents of the school #MeToo praise it for its ability to arouse a collective consciousness about school violence, others are asserting that the danger of false accusations is equally real and can lead to a witch hunt based on netizen speculation. The costs are high for celebrities who have had their image unjustly damaged as they are often delivered a severe economic blow. Chuu from the idol group LOONA suffered severe backlash from netizens after he was accused of middle school bullying. Later the accuser posted a written apology saying the accusation was all exaggerated and dramatized, but the damage to the pop stars reputation was already done.
It is not only stars or prominent athletes who are being targeted for accusations. A firefighter was named online for bullying a fellow student in school. The post provoked public outrage and his employers were overwhelmed by complaints calling for his firing. The TV program “Curious Story Y” investigated the accusations and through interviews with former classmates and his homeroom teacher they learned that the firefighter was in fact the victim of school bullying and not the perpetrator.
The Blue Tree Foundation (BTF), a youth violence prevention program, said, "The school #MeToo movement is actually a phenomenon known as ‘reliving school violence trauma.’ It is the psychological pain and trauma experienced in elementary, middle, and high school being re-lived by the victims. The incidents of school violence being raised about celebrities and athletes are triggering their own memories of the violence they experienced in school. The reaction suggests that school violence causes deep wounds that do not dissipate over time and that it is a serious social problem.”
|▲ The other illustration of school violence #MeToo movement (Photo from Joongang Ilbo)|
In order to remedy the situation they said, “Since the culture of school violence is the seed of civilization, it is important that the whole society works together to prevent it. The eradication of school violence can only be accomplished if we do not view school violence as the sole responsibility of the perpetrators and victims, but to view it as a problem that our social culture condones, takes lightly, and neglects. The problem cannot be resolved by a single expert or specialized institution. In order to fundamentally resolve the problem, we need to see multilateral cooperation between the private sector, governments, industry and academia, and above all, citizen participation is essential. It is the responsibility of all citizens to engage as proactive preventers of violence through participation in various social campaigns and cultural activities.” The foundation is calling on citizens to participate in the ‘Non-violent Support Signature Campaign’, to prevent and eradicate school violence and the 'Blue Promise Campaign' an effort designed to address the problem of cyber bullying, which has recently emerged as a new type of school violence.
The BTF has worked to support victims of school violence since 1995 by conducting counseling services to support the well-being of teenagers wounded by school violence. They operate the National School Violence Consultation Line which can be accessed through 1588-9128. They support reconciliation and dispute mediation services between sincere parties, forgiveness, and recovery through healing, counseling, and the education of perpetrators. They also operate the ‘With Wee Center,’ a daytime protection organization for victims, under commission from the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education. The With Wee Center provides a variety of programs to help victims suffering from psychological and emotional difficulties resulting from school violence. They help victims with psychological and emotional healing and help them adjust after returning to school. They are encouraging anyone triggered by the recent discussions about school violence, to reach out for help. “We will help relieve and heal your mental pain and trauma with professional counselors available through the National School Violence Consultation Line.”
The BTF conducts all activities with the help of donations from sponsors. They conduct campaigns to prevent and eradicate school violence, emergency support for victims, counseling, and education. But they rely on public support for all their programs. “We still need help from many people, including Dankookians. You can participate not only through financial donations, but also through talent volunteering and campaign participation to help adolescents live in a safer environment.”
A school is a place for students to learn the good and bad that the world has to offer, but more importantly, they need to learn how to live with one another through social activities that force us to recon with the darker side of our society and prevent violence in schools. Moreover, we need to establish a capable system for the safety of our youth. People also need to learn to not be so quick to judge and instead wait for all the facts to be revealed before launching a witch hunt for perpetrators. There is too much at stake, to afford to get it wrong.
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