When the Korean actor, Jisoo, admitted his fault over school violence during his school years, it sparked an unprecedented situation where a lead actor had to resign from his role in a drama being broadcasted. Over 7,000 people signed a petition asking Jisoo to step down from the drama as the controversy unfolded. On March 4, 2021, he posted an apology on his Instagram account, and the next day, his agency announced, “Jisoo will stop all his planned activities as an actor and go through an intense reflection.” Not only Jisoo but also other celebrities have been recently facing disclosures of school violence and such suspicions have led to a growing interest regarding school violence problems in general. Although people are shocked by school violence in the entertainment industry, it must be recognized that such school violence occurs profusely around everyone. The recent aspects of school violence have revealed that the age of aggressors student and student victims is continuously decreasing, and the types of violence are becoming more diversified. Regardless of the fact that school violence has reached a dangerous level, some schools downplay or cover up school-bullying cases. Some teachers, complaining about difficulties in tasks related to school violence, also shrug off school bullying as a trivial problem. In these cases, the victims are not receiving appropriate measures, so it is necessary to discuss the seriousness of the problem, to understand the actual condition of school violence in the field, and to find solutions to protect and prevent students from being harmed.
What Is School Violence?
The term “school violence” refers to the acts of physical, mental, or property damage to students through assault, blackmail, forced errands, sexual harassment, group bullying, cyberbullying, and other forms of direct and or indirect harassment that occur on school property. Hong Kyung-sun, a Professor from the Department of General Education at Kunsan National University, explained, “The most frequent type of school violence is verbal violence, but it can happen in combination with other types as well. Here, verbal harassment is not limited to swear words, but can be anything that inflicts emotional pain on someone.” Lim Sung-eun, a Professor from the School of Public Service at Seokyung University, also stated, “Apart from the fact that bullying has always been a problem, cyberbullying has also developed in modern society. Although the problems of school violence remains the same, cyberbullying has inflicted even more damage on students and has a lingering impact in our interconnected society.”
The Current Situation of School Violence in Korea
- The Reality of School Violence
The “2020 School Violence Survey” conducted by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education surveyed 568,455 students to check Korea’s reality on school violence in 2020. According to the results, the response rate of victims was 1.1% (5,069) which is decreased by 0.9% (7,123) compared to the previous year. The types of damage were similar to the previous year’s result, but the number of cyberbullying noticeably increased by 3.1% and group bullying by 5.1%.
- Countermeasures Against School Violence
There are several official measures to deal with school violence. The Act on the Prevention of and Countermeasures against Violence in Schools is a guideline to help solve school violence cases. By making school violence investigations compulsory, Korea created a countermeasure committee. To prevent school violence, regular education is mandatory, and students are educated i n v a r i o u s w a y s . Counseling offices d e a l w i t h s c h o o l v i o l e n c e i n a l l schools. In these facilities, necessary space for consultation a n d m e a s u r e s t o minimize personal risks are guaranteed. Regarding the mandatory school violence prevention education, Professor Lim claimed, “The number of private schools is high in Korea, but of these schools, many tend to neglect school violence. This is because school foundations, who have the right to take disciplinary action but refrain from doing so, do not place emphasis on supervision or put school violence cases before everything else.” To tackle this, active attention from higher levels is required; therefore, the efforts of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the Ministry of Justice, the judiciary, local governments, citizens, and other members must all pay attention to it along with the Ministry of Education. In addition, Professor Hong commented on the mandatory education of school violence protection. “The biggest problem of our society is that people think ‘Violence is not related to me.’ Even for people who receive education, they simply take it passively and think it is unnecessary. In this regard, to prevent school violence, education cannot be the ultimate answer for every problem.” She also pointed out that, “Learning to respect each other in our daily lives, being considerate and being able to think of ourselves should come first in order to find the true meaning of prevention education.” Regarding the school violence counseling office, it has always been an issue whether this facility has been appropriately fulfilling its role of being a reliable place for student victims. To improve counseling, the Ministry of Education created a system called the WEE (WEE: We + education, We + emotion) class, but even this system has not been a guarantee to the student victims that they will be protected. The reason is that the size or location of offices and professional counselors vary greatly from school to school. Also, not all WEE class counselors are experts on the subject of harassment, and many of them are inexperienced in counseling victims of harassment, which adds to the insufficiency in the current protective environment for victims.
- Process of Handling School Violence Outbreaks
Essentially, the procedure for handling school violence cases differs from school to school. However, in general, many schools go through a similar process: Report submission and principal report ‚Take immediate action or draft an investigation ƒInterview with parents of the victim „Determine the direction of process …Establish and set functions of autonomous committees for countermeasures against school violence or organize autonomous committees †Notify the result or reconsider the case ‡Request measures against the aggressor student and follow-up management for the student victim. To prevent and deal with school violence, the state has enacted and implemented the Act on the Prevention of and Countermeasures against Violence in Schools in 2017 as mentioned earlier. It advises to enact the Establishment and Functions of Autonomous Committees for Countermeasures against School Violence measure in each school under the metropolitan and provincial offices of education. Policies are established to deliberate on matters related to the prevention of and countermeasures against school violence. Regarding this, Professor Lim stated, “Since it takes time to convene a m e e t i n g f o r t h e a u t o n o m o u s committees, in the meantime, s t u d e n t s a r e n e g l e c t e d , u n a b l e t o leave school, o r e x p o s e d t o s e c o n d a r y damage. This is why many students do not trust the school, so it is required to supplement in detail and strengthen the professional operation.” Subsequently, Professor Hong claimed, “The process seldom goes smoothly, and I believe it would be difficult for the school violence process to go steadily unless one truly cares about the violence and has a consensus on what to do.”
Causes and Problems of School Violence
Kang Dong-wook, a Professor from the College of Law at Dongguk University, mentioned, “There can be several causes of school violence, including factors related to aggressor students, student victims, and the environment. However, above these, the biggest cause is the social conditions where people disregard individual rights such as disrespecting legitimate efforts, going against free competition, and rejecting individual characteristics. Thus, it is necessary to consider not only the individual status but also the surrounding environment, so as to identify the cause and take appropriate countermeasures against school violence.” Although there are various causes of influence around school violence, this article categorizes it into two problems to provide a macroperspective on a social dimension.
- Deterioration in School Function
First, there is a deterioration regarding the school function. It has been pointed out that exam-oriented education has lowered the public’s trust and focuses only on lecture-based classes while neglecting to teach about morality. As a result, students are put in an environment where they are forced to escape from a boring school culture leading to school violence. Since school violence can represent the problem of young people in Korean society, it is problematic that characterbuilding education, which refers to education aimed at nurturing one’s inner self and cultivating the h u m a n i t y t o live in harmony with others, is not provided in K o r e a w h i l s t technological a d v a n c e s are constantly mass-producing new problems in school violence. However, Professor Hong stated, “Exam-oriented education cannot be the main cause of violence because it is a natural way for students to study.” In this regard, there is another opinion that it may somehow influence deterioration in schools but more importantly, the failure in character building education is the more severe cause. Accordingly, the lack of equipping a spirit of respect and consideration for each other can lead to non-coexistence in school society and neglection, making it hard for teachers to actively cope with school violence.
- Post-Action Rather than Precautionary Measures Against School Violence
It has been controversial that education on school violence prevention was conducted little more than a formality. In addition, teachers’ lack of expertise, lack of countermeasures suitable for school, and proceeding after occurrences were insufficient. As described, related ministries and policies have been established and implemented, but it is still difficult to manage each case effectively unless one fully understands the procedure. Professor Kang stated, “One of the reasons why post-action against school violence is not sufficient is because some autonomous committees do not have the expertise in or fairness of judgment on school violence.” In particular, the fact that the School Violence Countermeasure Committee, which was established for each school, does not have the expertise in or fairness of judgment on school violence, is considered to be an important cause for not properly guiding precautionary measures against school violence.
Why Is School Violence a Continuous Problem?
As years pass, different fields have worked to create a sustainable society. However, it is questionable whether the current society has been able to create a safe and secure environment for their students. Joo Kyung-pil, a Professor from the Department of Youth Education at Korea National Open University, said, “We are currently living in a society where it is difficult for students who suffer from high levels of stress due to school work and competition, to learn proper ‘personality development education.’” Furthermore, he said, “The development of technology has created newly improved ways of communication, which has now inevitably become a new factor of school violence issues.” In March of this year, a survey was conducted with approximately 5,000 adult men and women regarding their experience and awareness on school violence and bullying. They asked the interviewees, “Do you think the current disciplinary system for school violence offenders is appropriate?” The results were surprising as 69.0% answered “No, it is not appropriate.” From this response, it is easy to see that many are still concerned with the current disciplinary system for school violence offenders in South Korea.
- Problems with the Current System
The role of school supervisors is important for the development of students as they p l a y a l a r g e role in making sure students a r e s a f e a n d protected from harm. However, there have been situations where these individuals have not been able to act accordingly. Professor Lim said, “The supervision of the Office of Education is not strict, and although punishment is supposed to be put upon the school officials or supervisors if they fail to make appropriate decisions in regards to preventing school violence, this is not actively done.” Another reason for the continuous rise in school violence can be found in the Youth Protection Act. According to the Korean Legislation Research Institute, the original motive of this law was not only to protect children from crime but also to provide a secure and safe environment for them to grow in. When this law was implemented however, problems began to arise as adolescents who needed appropriate punishment were not receiving what they deserved. Last month, there was an incident at a middle school in Busan where two students harassed their fellow classmate by cutting her hair without her consent, trespassing her residence, sexually harassing her, and more. However, due to the Youth Protection Act, dispute among citizens rose in fear of these juvenile offenders getting “scot-free” as a backfire of this law. Due to adolescent crimes such as this, the necessity of the Youth Protection Act has been under continuous controversy.
- School Violence Now Jumping Over School Walls
The violence from juveniles has become more of a problem as the harassment has spread beyond schools into neighboring facilities, such as academies, restaurants, karaoke rooms, and boarding institutions. Earlier this year, there was an incident at a boarding academy in Gyeongnam. The facility consists of students from neighboring schools. However, it was revealed that various unspeakable acts of harassment had been continuously going on within the facility. Offenders were found to have forced victims to dunk their heads in the toilet, drink urine, and so on. Like this, the adolescent harassment acts have shown to be exceeding the school environment and spreading to the neighboring facilities that students tend to spend a lot of time in.
School Violence Damage, Leading to Long-Term Problems
School violence in itself is shocking and harmful. However, what makes it even more serious is the long-term impact it has on the victims. In a survey conducted by Albacall and Dooit, 87.3% of the surveyors claimed that the experience of getting harassed as a student had the greatest damage on one’s mental health when compared to that of one’s physical o r e c o n o m i c status. Also, a study conducted b y t h e S e o u l M e t r o p o l i t a n O f f i c e o f E d u c a t i o n s h o w e d t h a t one’s mental and emotional health is strongly connected to the rest of a person’s health. Therefore, damages to them can bring severe problems, and the consequences may even be deadly.
- School Bullying Leads to Traumas
One of the major mental health issues that one may incur after being a victim of school violence is becoming traumatized by the acts of the bully. This trauma manifests in psychological and physical aftereffects including depression, anxiety, and dangerously low self-esteem which could, in worstcase scenarios, lead to suicidal behavior. These signs can stay with the victim until they reach adulthood, preventing them from living out their lives fully.
Putting an End to School Violence, Where to Start
Kwon Sun-joo, a Professor from the Graduate School of Education at Hanyang University said, “School violence traumas are remembered by the body for a long period of time. Therefore, simple measures of protection may not be enough to heal victims.” She also emphasized the need for mental treatment by saying, “Professional trauma treatment based on each individual’s symptoms is essential f o r t h e i r mental health.” T h r o u g h t h e w o r d s o f P r o f e s s o r Kwon, it seems t h a t r a t h e r than focusing solely on the punishment of the aggressor student, there also needs to be a focus on protecting and helping the student victim fully recover from his or her past experiences in order for them to resume living their lives. For appropriate measures to be made in the restructuring of the current disciplinary system for school offenders, changes must be made to various parts of the process. Professor Kang said, “It is important to make sure that the system used to deal with school violence problems ensures that they do not cause any secondary or tertiary damage to the student victims.” He also said, “At the same time, it is vital to make sure the system does its role with follow-up management to prevent school violence from reoccurring.” Through the words of Professor Kang, it is clear that the current school system has many problems as it is unable to prevent future violence from occurring. In this stance, changes must be made to make sure students are protected not once but continuously. Furthermore, a change must be made regarding the system’s focus on the prevention of bullying to also focusing on the procedures that must be followed in order for the victims to overcome their traumatic experiences. An environment must be created where victims will be able to receive help in order to overcome their past traumas. Lee Seung-hyun, a Researcher from the Korea Institute of Criminology said, “It is necessary to create an environment that works to help the healing of the victims’ damage, after the obvious procedures of self-reflection and apologies from the aggressor s t u d e n t s h a v e b e e n c o n d u c t e d . ” Professor Kwon also said, “A system of professional counseling facilities and professional treatment facilities for traumatic experiences that goes beyond the current WEE class counseling center provided at school is needed for both the offenders and victims of school violence.” As mentioned, the focus must be put on how to help the victims overcome their traumas and damage they were given.
Stopping School Violence Is Up to Us
In order to put an end to school violence once and for all, we must go beyond the student’s home environment. Professor Kwon recognized this by saying, “The issue of school violence is not just a matter for children and adolescents, but is a matter of great importance that should be addressed as a social issue.” The first and most obvious solution to school violence would be to recognize and inform. This includes informing parents, friends, the police, or counseling offices on exactly how school violence is occuring, and how it acquires a universal “no-tolerance” rule. Most school bullies perceive school violence as a joke. However, they must learn to recognize that if someone is suffering because of them, then it is clearly an offensive act and therefore a human rights’ violation. This moves beyond a problem of the school and turns into a societal problem that the entire community must recognize. Youth training facilities and welfare centers around the school must also help with the prevention of school violence through actively counseling troubled youths in the schools. Furthermore, we must build a society that is able to discipline students who show immoral behavior. The issue of school violence must be recognized as a crime and therefore must be acted upon by all members of the society in order for it to cease being a problem for students in our community.