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In Korea

I was living in a desolate part of Seoul. It was my second time around. I knew the contract was sketchy, and, admittedly, I pretended I’d never been there before. They told me I was living in a officetel in a building in Dongdaemun. When I arrived, it was a graying stump of a construct, and if I had been new to Korea, I would have left. A gaggle of panicky women arrived with a set of sheets and no idea why I didn’t have a cell phone. This was back before cell phones had affordable international plans.

I worked illegally at a daycare. I gave them my papers and they continually assured me they were being processed. One day they sent me to Japan for re-entry and I knew my papers had not been processed. I had no working visa.

The chronology is an odd thing. I don’t know when what happened exactly. I recall the din of the buildings, the lovely elderly couple who slept in their store across the alley. Climbing over dirty block of ice to trudge to school every morning. Losing weight, buying wine by pulling myself over boxes at the local store. My broken Korean, my mended Korean, from watching hours upon hours of movies, and writing down every expression.

My friend owned a bar down the street. I would mull over my beer and stare at the snow falling. One time a sedan ran over my foot in the alley. My boss yelled at me for failing to recall any details. There were so many of them and they were all black or silver and it was late and I was more concerned about my foot.

One night I wanted to watch movies and write. My dvd player wasn’t working, so I called my friend, who owned the bar. He confirmed that it was done. I forgot I had taken my medicine, a dosage of Klonopin that makes it easy for forget. I’ve taken it for anxiety since I was 18 years old. Back then, I couldn’t leave the dorms without suffering a full-on panic attack. I couldn’t attend class. I couldn’t see friends. I didn’t know why. And then they put me on this miraculous medicine that enable me to feel normal. Friends would take it and talk about how high it made them. It just regulated me. So, don’t blame the medication. I don’t know that I’d be alive right now without it.

My friend offered that I come to the bar and drinks were on him. I dressed and followed. A group of expats were annoying me, so I accepted the invite from a group of Korean men to join their table. I’d done this plenty of times before–the expat bubble in Korea can be terrible. The bar bustled on that Friday night, and my owner friend was busy with other customers. He will always regret this.

As I took a shot of Soju, I started to feel unreasonably dizzy. I excused myself, in Korean, and left. A couple of the men tried to walk me out, but as I lived two blocks away, I dismissed them.

I got to my apartment, took the stairs up, and began to punch in the code. Right as I clumsily swung open the door, two men wrenched themselves around me, forcing it open. I tried to stop it but a third slammed it shut, all men inside the room. What happened next is something I can’t quite remember. I remember nails, screaming, being on the floor. I remember sobbing and laughing and shouting. I remember one of them took my cell phone from me, wrestling it away.

Apparently, after they fled, I made my way back to the bar. It was winter. I had no stockings, blood on my legs, and beneath my nails. No coat. I ran up into the bar and yelled that I was raped. An expat and one extremely kind man helped me back to my place. The police were called. I sat in the hallway without my underwear, stunned. They shone lights and fingerprinted me and dusted for fingerprints everywhere. I sat still, utterly stunned. They told me I would have to go to the hospital.

At the hospital one nurse laughed at my lack of underwear. Another one turned to her and sharply informed her, she’s a rape victim. I cried out.

They performed the exam and then they took me to the police station. Several times I got up and screamed in Korean, I just want to go home, that’s enough. My kind translating stranger soothed me and explained it would be over soon. I finished my statement and we got home at 7am. He had a wife and a newborn to go home to.

I ignored all the calls. Slept all weekend. Only returned one text to confirm I was okay. Okay. I told my sketchy recruiter that if one word were uttered about this I would leave. I continued living.

One day my good friend was over. We were laughing and drinking weak beer and watching terrible music videos. The detective knocked and right when I tried to ignore him, she took my hand and opened the door. She and her mother had planned this.

He showed me photos. I learned that two of the men had been released from prison only two days prior. I learned they had histories of violence. I learned several non-Korean women in the area had been raped over the course of those two days. None of them would come forward. In many countries, rape still carries a stigma against the woman. These women did not want to lose their jobs or their visas. Or maybe they, like I, just wanted to forget.

After he told me these things, I agreed to testify. I wrote–moment by moment–my testimony. My friend translated when I wasn’t sure of the word. I edited it. I checked it over. It needed to be completely accurate. The detective and I chain smoked and I couldn’t help but to think this is a movie. This is not my life. This is not real.

I didn’t leave my house much after that. My creepy recruiter asked for a money loan and then disappeared. I found another job. I found a mover. I left, after paying residual rent, and went to another place, just outside of Seoul.

I don’t really want to talk about how I dealt or didn’t deal after that. I don’t want to stigmatize South Korea as a country that has a rape problem any more than any other country. We inhabit a world of rape culture. I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I want change. I want recognition–not personally–but on a global level. This is something that happens and this is something that never goes away.

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