The student’s shocking death escalates gender conflicts

Students at Inha University in Michuhol District, central Incheon pay their respects at a memorial altar dedicated to a female classmate discovered dead on campus early Friday in a suspected case of sexual assault and murder.
Students at Inha University in Michuhol District, central Incheon pay their respects at a memorial altar dedicated to a female classmate discovered dead on campus early Friday in a suspected case of sexual assault and murder.

Public reaction to a male college student’s suspected sexual assault and murder of a female classmate at Inha University highlighted deepening gender-based divisions and misogyny in the country as politicians and online commentators weighed in on the shocking crime.

A formal arrest warrant for the primary suspect, described by police as a college freshman in his 20s, was issued by the Incheon District Court on Sunday evening.

Police believe the victim, who was also in her 20’s, was drinking with the suspect based on closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage from campus security cameras showing the suspect half-carrying the victim into a university building around 1:30 a.m. on Friday, two hours before she was discovered by a passerby on the ground bleeding profusely from her scalpnose, and mouth. Her underwear and pants were located a few feet from her body.  

She was declared dead after being transported by paramedics to a hospital. The suspect has denied pushing her from the building, police said.

The liberal Democratic Party’s (DP) former interim leader Park Ji-hyun, who fought online sex crimes before entering politics, wrote a post on Facebook calling the case “a tragic death in which all of us are complicit” to draw attention to what she described as a culture of misogyny in the country.

“Politicians who close ranks to protect perpetrators of sexual violence, a president who wants to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, courts who issue slaps on the wrist to criminals who distribute illegally filmed materials – all of these people are accomplices to this crime,” Park wrote, rhetorically asking “if there is a single place in the Republic of Korea that is safe for women.”

Park’s argument was criticized by conservative People Power Party Spokesman Shin Ju-ho, who questioned her assignment of blame for the crime on public officials in his own post on Facebook.

Calling the crime “a problem with one person,” Shin suggested Park was seeking to inflame passions with an ulterior motive.

“I wonder who is trying to garner political benefit by deepening divisions based on gender,” Shin said.

Online reactions to the crime have exhibited hostility, gender stereotypes, and resentment over media coverage of the murder.

“One doesn’t have to look too closely to realize this is a case of rape followed by murder,” said one commentator in an online forum frequented by women, who added, “I hope all Korean men just die.”

A different post in the same forum contained alleged photos of the suspect, which were appended by remarks from other commentators suggesting he looks “just like a rapist.”

In another, male-dominated online community, a commentator criticized media attention to the case.

“They don’t make a peep when men get conscripted, get injured, or die in military accidents, so it’s funny to see them over-reacting over this one incident,” he said.  

Another commentator questioned, “Why are all men being blamed in this case?”

Multiple comments also suggested the victim was to blame for drinking late at night with the suspect, with some assuming that she wore revealing clothing.

Meanwhile, suggested keywords related to the murder on online search engines show that people typed in questions trying to find out the victim’s personal information, such as her name, appearance, or social media accounts, highlighting privacy concerns.

Clickbait articles have proliferated to lure in those asking for identifying details about the victim, suggesting some websites are trying to attract viewers in the wake of the tragedy.

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]