“While there was a midnight curfew for the entire population, the tacit curfew for young women was several hours earlier; as the evening wore on, trains and buses emptied of women and girls steering clear of the late-night commute. The architecture of rapid and shoddy development produced an endless array of dangerous sites. Seoul’s suburbs were crisscrossed by unlit alleys. Everywhere women went, cautionary tales followed them. In restaurants and cafes female friends went to the toilets together to keep watch outside the cheaply constructed unisex booths where you exited straight into a urinal. And the sex industry, the liquor industry, all kinds of illicit trade was booming all around. Rape reportings increased 100 percent in the decade leading up to 1974 and doubled again within six years. What we know of the 1970s and 1980s—the rapid development of the economy, the growing enrichment of the middle class, the shift from labor-intensive to technology-intensive capitalist growth, the expansion of education and ideas critical of the political and economic status quo—to all this can be added a general culture of sexual violence. Rather than targeting women only, this culture of violence functioned in multiple hierarchical relationships in the military, schools, employment society, and the family, which all preached to its objects endurance, respect, and silence.
Tracing the lives of Korean working-class women and their representation in literature, we can see that sexual violence is constantly referred to in ways both coded and uncoded, yet no clear analysis of its place and role in working-class communities exists. It appears that sexual violence disciplined whole swathes of the population, especially under the military presidents. In an environment where harassment was without censure, and assault could make you a pariah among women, a regime of sexual violence did vital work in keeping a large segment of the population watchful, isolated, and besieged. The demonstrations at Tongil and YH were some of the very few occasions where this regime found it necessary to display itself openly. It should not surprise us that the austere military government of Park Chung Hee licensed its police to act in this way. As feminist academic and activist Insook Kwon has taught us, rape and sexual assault was simply another way that security agents expressed their loyalty to the state.
That this essential ingredient of Korea’s much studied industrialization should have slipped our notice is worth pondering. In the context of the ongoing reevaluation of the Park Chung Hee era in South Korea, do we include sexual violence in the logarithm that calculates the net losses and gains of Park’s industrialization strategy?”