Thursday, February 08, 2007

The government officials involved in the Pada Iyagi gambling scandal faced some repercussions for their less-than-ethical, if not criminal, actions. To accept money in exchange for political favors is one of the most inexcusable acts for a public official or civil servant. Never mind that it is also one of the most effective ways to achieve anything politically and many governments actually sanction such quid pro quo under a legal guise called “lobbying.” Such impropriety so undermines the democratic process that when it occurs, the sword of justice must cut swiftly and surely. Of course, when unelected party officials are at the heart of a criminal inquiry and ethics debacle, the situation isn't so serious. I mean, these politicos work behind the scenes, organizing and planning. They aren't to be subject to the same scrutiny as elected representatives, right?

In early December 2006, police apprehended a ranking political party official on suspicions of attempted rape. A witness claims Mr. Jeong Seong-Rae, chairman of a regional Grand National Party (GNP) steering committee, stopped on a street in Seoul’s upscale Apgujeong neighborhood (home to an Uncle Tom’s franchise) late in the evening to molest an unconscious woman. Realizing the eye-witness might implicate him in some wrongdoing, Mr. Jeong ran from the scene only to be “eventually caught after a fistfight.”

Once in the custody of the gendarmes, a diligent and eager 4th Estate questioned the right honorable Mr. Jeong about the accusations. If only Western media could confront alleged law-breakers with such alacrity. Mr. Jeong immediately denied the charges, saying, “I was drunk and it was an accident…I don't remember a thing about what happened." That is to say, he did not remember a thing about what happened, except that it was an accident. While excessive inebriation may diminish one’s capacity, it hardly qualifies as an affirmative defense.

Nonetheless, Mr. Jeong’s rhetoric is well suited for a promising career in politics. This slight misstep aside, he’ll soon join the long list of like-minded American political elites whose forked-tongues and two-faces and double-speak are etched into the hallowed halls of our republican institutions. Surely, Mr. Jeong will soon earn the trust of the Korean populace, run for the National Assembly and rectify his self-proclaimed unemployment. “When questioned by reporters at the Seoul Gangnam Police Precinct, Mr. Jeong first said he is unemployed, but then admitted he is a Grand National Party official. Mr. Jeong has run for the National Assembly seat on the ticket of his party in Dangjin county, South Chungcheong province, but did not win.”

Well, we can’t win ‘em all, Mr. Jeong. But at least he didn’t lie. Party bureaucrat and the election loser do not constitute gainful employment. Just ask Albert Gore. However, if he keeps building his resume in this fashion, there is no reason he can not be the next Ted Kennedy, Mark Foley, or Gavin Newsom. You can read the only single report of the incident for yourself here.

When this happened, it made front page news in the weekend edition of the JoongAng Daily. And rightly so. For English-language readers and foreigners living in Korea, this type of news is A1 worthy. Unfortunately, media coverage of this story seems to have ended with this report; leaving the public to wonder if the perpetrator was ever actually charged and whether the victim ever regained consciousness.

While this incident is unfortunate and may underscore a tacit tolerance for drunken misbehavior, misogyny and domestic abuse, do not form the opinion that violence is a common to this culture. I am constantly impressed by the absence of what most Americans consider unacceptable-but-anticipated criminal behavior: graft, theft, assault, etc. There are few overt scams; no muggings or picked pockets; and with the drunken brawl aside, few assaults. In my experience, this is one of the safest urban dwellings on Earth. Quite an achievement considering it is one of the densest. But that is not the result of active community or government efforts to curb such acts, but rather (and here I start to speculate) the result of a culture steeped in Confucian tradition. I mention this because Mr. Jeong’s story and the story to follow seem exceptions to the rule, but nonetheless expose the hairy, lint-packed underbelly of gender relations on the Peninsula.

Any headline which employs the word Economic(s), or some derivation thereof, gives us cause to perk up and take note. For the most part, anything related to Economics is interesting, and interestingly, Economics claims it can relate almost anything. They don’t call it the Dismal Science for nothing. South Alabama University Professor Chang Se Moon’s article, “Domestic Violence Entails Economic Costs” is aptly timed for the staff here at Seoulitary Confinement.
Notice the strange piggy bank graphic and poorly placed advert. While we pondered and percolated the case of Mr. Jeong, the Korean media was swept away in a maelstrom. Beauty. Celebrity. Violence. A 12-day marriage. A Miscarriage. While economists study equilibrium, reporters seek tumult. Professor Moon’s article summarized a recent obsession of the Korean media: The marriage and divorce of superstar actors Lee Chan and Lee Min-young. After a fairytale wedding and honeymoon, a previously pregnant Min-young found herself in a hospital bed with a broken nose, bruises and vacant womb. Of course, she called the media in to get her side of the story. In response, her attacker and at the time husband, called a press conference of his own. Donning a NYPD cap (really?), Mr. Lee was solemn, then contrite, then visibly moved to tears by her accusations. He denied causing the miscarriage, claiming he was provoked into striking her and they had a slap fight. Violence in the home is unacceptable. Clearly Mr. Lee does not deny hitting his spouse, which is criminal. But remember, these people are acclaimed dramatic actors. You can see the whole, terrible scene acted out in these youtube videos containing English subtitles. From our perspective the entire scenario was really bizarre.

But back to Mr. Moon’s article. Citing the Mr. and Mrs. Lee dispute, he contends, in a simple analysis, domestic violence presents two substantial costs which he deems “opportunity costs.” First, Mrs. Lee’s acting career is materially affected by her inability to work with a broken nose. Her foregone wages (plus medical expenses) are private costs that she and her family must bear. Second, there are the costs incurred by society enforcing and prosecuting domestic violence laws. Economics is not without more sophisticated analyses of domestic violence. Washington University’s Dr. R.A. Pollack offers an Intergenerational Model of Domestic Violence while Tiefenthaler and Farmer give us an Economic Analysis of Domestic Violence.

Mr. Moon’s larger point, though he does not really hash it out, may be that a society which prevents domestic violence, whether through cultural norms or legal institutions, avoids these opportunity costs and can divert resources to more useful pursuits. Mr. Moon’s article is a worthwhile read if these topics interest you and he goes on to detail some policy remedies for Korea’s courts and police.

Concurent to Prof. Moon’s call to arms is a Korea Times editorial, reprinted by Asia Views, titled “South Korea: Domestic Violence.” This article includes a favorite Korean adage: “Wives and dried walleyed pollack should be beaten once in three days.” Surely, something is lost in the translation, but you get the picture.

According to the US State Department, in 2005 “[v]iolence against women remained a problem. Between January and August, the Ministry of Justice registered 10,227 cases of domestic violence and prosecuted 1,114 cases.” Baseball is a very popular sport in Korea and if enforcing domestic violence were measured as a batting average (.108), the Korean criminal justice system would be living in Burlington, Iowa, earning $850 a month and learning about the best fast-food restaurant bathrooms on I-80, the nuances of chewing tobacco flavors and how to remove splinters from the butt. In a population of 16,588,278 women over 19 years old (2000 Census), approximately 1 out of every 1,622 are victims of domestic abuse. Compare this to America where, according to the US Census (2000), the over-18 female population in America totaled 108,133,727. Commonly cited domestic violence statistics claim, “[i]n the year 2001, more than half a million American women (588,490 women) were victims of nonfatal violence committed by an intimate partner.” Some statistics even go as high as 4 million women. Using the conservative estimate, a quick calculation of the incidence of domestic violence against women is 1 in every 183 women. While cursory analysis might lead you to believe domestic violence is more of a problem in the US than in South Korea, consider legal and cultural differences as an explanation for the contrasting statistics.

Domestic violence laws, as exist in the US, were only recently enacted here in South Korea. The Special Act on the Punishment of Domestic Violence and the Act on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Protection of Victims took effect in December 1997. With less than a decade enforcing these laws, the system may not yet be operating with total efficiency (see Chang Se Moon's article above). However, even as the legal structures are beginning to emulate those in America, we must point out that culturally, there remain impediments to greater gender equality.

Even though domestic violence laws have been on the books for approximately 10 years it was only, “[i]n March [2005] the National Assembly eliminated the household registration system that had made women legally subordinate to the male family head…Although the law helped abused women who chose to divorce, the stigma of divorce remained strong, and there was little government or private assistance for divorced women. These factors, plus the fact that divorced women had limited employment opportunities and had difficulty remarrying, led some women to stay in abusive situations. However, according to a ministry of health and welfare report, 47.4 percent of marriages end in divorce."


-al said...

"Baseball is a very popular sport in Korea and if enforcing domestic violence were measured as a batting average (.108), the Korean criminal justice system would be living in Burlington, Iowa, earning $850 a month and learning about the best fast-food restaurant bathrooms on I-80, the nuances of chewing tobacco flavors and how to remove splinters from the butt."

this is beautiful. just beautiful.

Anonymous said...

And would it matter if all .108 were 100% Home Runs...Hmm...

Anonymous said...

That's like 65 Home Runs a year give or take 8...I'd be inclined to take that bet.

Anonymous said...

When is this blog going to be UPDATED????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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