Extra! Korea

April 11, 2010

I’m sure the rape at the MT (“Membership Training”) is just the tip of the iceberg

Filed under: crime, culture, drinking, gender equality, safety, suicide, youth — extrakorea @ 9:59 am

Not too long ago, Brian (formerly) in Jeollanam-do reported on the university student who committed suicide after being raped on an MT. MT is short for “membership training” and they have nothing to do with any sort of training. Groups of students who are associated in some way (e.g. are members of the same club or have the same major) go somewhere, stay the night, and then return the next day. Participation is supposedly optional, but declining could get you ostracized, which is a big deal in Korea, particularly among university students. What do they do there? Drinking alcohol. Lots of it. Again, you’re pressured to conform and participate. If you don’t drink, or only a little, you will be angrily accused of “spoiling the mood” by your superiors (“seon-bae”). In Korea, subordinates (“hoo-bae”) basically have to do everything that their seonbaes demand, or risk the aforementioned excommunication. It’s common for male seon-baes to try to get female hoo-baes drunk so as to make sexually harassing them easier.

You say, “Wait a minute, they stay overnight? I thought that Korea was a conservative society. I thought that Korean parents are worry-warts with regards to their children. What do they think about that?” Good question. I think it’s a combination of: a) naivety (“Just because a big mixed-gender group stays somewhere overnight doesn’t mean that they’re having sex.”), b) denial (similar to a)). Korean parents don’t want to think about the fact that their kids might be humping like rabbits.), and c) people know, and it’s kind of a dirty little secret. Have you ever seen the movie “Memories of Murder“? (If you haven’t, be sure to.) In one scene, two police officers speculate on what might be happening on these MTs.

I’m sure that it’s well-known among Koreans that sexual harassment is widespread at MTs. You might remember the Japanese student who shocked the nation by publicly describing when her Korean teacher offered her a sex-for-grades exchange. You might not remember that another girl on the show, a Chinese student, Shang Fang (“상팡”), said that she was sexually harassed by the same teacher while on an MT (“상팡 “문제의 교수에게 MT서 성희롱 당했다””). People here don’t want to talk about it in much the same way that they don’t want to talk about the special barber shops (which don’t offer haircuts), “anmas” (a kind of massage parlor), “room salons” (an expensive bar-brothel mash-up), etc. It’s embarrassing to talk about it, so the problem is not addressed.

Kushibo has written that the problem isn’t as bad as it used to be. Let’s say that he’s right. “Not as bad as it used to be” can still describe a serious problem. Near the school that I teach at, I still see students at the big supermarket loading up for the weekend MTs with snacks like chips and booze. Lots of cheap, strong booze. Kushibo certainly knows the seriousness of the problem, from this story that he reprinted:

Well, one other woman began to pass out while they were all at a noraebang in L.A. Koreatown. My friend noticed what seemed like shallow breathing, but she wasn’t sure. She asked some of her sŏnbae (‘senior’) if the passed-out hubae (‘junior’) seemed all right. She actually got barked at that she was ruining the punwigi (mood/atmosphere) of the party. After a couple minutes, still nagged by concern for the passed-out friend, she decided to call 911.

According to my accountant friend, the call saved the woman’s life. She was rushed to a nearby hospital and her stomach was pumped. The E/R doctor told them that if they had waited another twenty minutes, the friend might have died of alcohol poisoning. Her blood alcohol level was stratospheric, having downed all these “one-shot” drinks, egged on (without any real choice without being ostracized) by her supposed friends.

Also, I’m sure that someone as knowledgeable about Korea as Kushibo is knows that there’s optional, and then there’s “optional,” with big, fat quotation marks around it, which basically means, “It’s your choice not to, but if you don’t, we’re going to make your life f-ing miserable.”

Now, due to this unfortunate tragedy, perhaps the problem will be addressed like it should have been long ago.


  1. […] Is Membership Training (MT) in Korea just an excuse to sexually harrass women? […]

    Pingback by ROK Drop Weekly Linklets – April 11th, 2010 | ROK Drop — April 11, 2010 @ 11:59 pm

  2. […] Speaking of feeling sad about students, I just found another commentary just written about last week’s tragedy. […]

    Pingback by Monday, 12th of April « What's the Story?! — April 12, 2010 @ 12:58 pm

  3. You wrote:
    Kushibo has written that the problem isn’t as bad as it used to be. A bold assertion (especially considering that he doesn’t live in Korea), but let’s say that he’s right. “Not as bad as it used to be” can still describe a serious problem. Near the school that I teach at, I still see students at the big supermarket loading up for the weekend MTs with snacks like chips and booze. Lots of cheap, strong booze.

    Um, a couple of points. First, I do live in Korea. I’m temporarily going to grad school in Hawaii, but my home is still Seoul and during vacations I spend considerable time there each year while I’m gone, not to mention that I still work for a Korea-based company doing Korea-based work.

    Second, when I said that “the problem is lessening to a significant degree,” I used corporate examples, not academic. I honestly don’t know how significantly “forced drinking” is going down for MT, if at all, though my own experience at several MTs was that if you didn’t want to drink, you didn’t really have to, and there were no repercussions. Granted, this is a more international group, but even the KoKos weren’t always drinking much. But I do know from others’ experiences that some are in clubs and majors where only a little bit of drinking is required (though some are still adamant that everyone must get shit-faced).

    One reason for the lessening at the corporate level is that there is much more public narrative about the problems of drinking than before: no small danger of getting caught driving drunk, a genuine fear (that didn’t exist before) of a spouse leaving you due to excessive drinking, and increasing awareness of how drinking impedes being a good father (or mother) and husband (or wife). And as Protestants become more assertive, one’s religious faith is becoming a more widely accepted reason for not drinking. In more and more companies, the excessive drinker is the one who is ostracized instead of the teetotalers.

    But don’t get me wrong, there is a problem and — at least among some groups — there will probably always be a problem. I’m not trying to sugarcoat that, as my L.A. noraebang anecdote shows. The growing number of women who drink socially in situations they freely choose to be in may be masking a per capita drop in hard liquor consumption among men that corresponds with greater choice for them as well.

    Comment by kushibo — April 14, 2010 @ 9:19 am

    • Going to Korea during vacations does not count as living here.

      At present, you do not live here.

      When you finish grad school, maybe you will go back to living here, as you did before, but at the present time, you do not live here.

      Comment by extrakorea — April 14, 2010 @ 1:35 pm

      • In the several years that I’ve been studying in Hawaii, I have spent two, three, or four months of each year in Seoul, where I pay rent to maintain a small place to live (I have tenants in my own apartment) and during which time I drive my car to report to work in an office.

        I’m playing a game of global Twister where I’ve got my right foot in Seoul, my two hands in Honolulu, and the tips of my toes in California, and that situation is enough to provide meaningful face time in a Korean company and experience with what’s going on in Korea as a whole.

        I may call this living in Seoul part-time and you call it “not living here,” but both descriptions are really beside the point: Your comment…

        Kushibo has written that the problem isn’t as bad as it used to be. A bold assertion (especially considering that he doesn’t live in Korea), but let’s say that he’s right.

        … was an ad hominem swipe meant to discredit someone whose assertion you may not agree with. In addition to being bad form, it is also an unfair criticism.

        Leaving aside that the viewpoint I provided (i.e., mandatory drinking sessions may be lessening significantly in many companies, even though it may still be a problem in other companies and organizations) is reinforced by my experiences, discussions, and interactions in Seoul after I no longer live there according to your definition, my original basis for that contention was experience obtained when even you would concede I actually lived in South Korea. (Oh, wait, that was only nine months of the year, so maybe you’ll come back and say I never actually lived in Korea, eh? ~ glib sarcasm mode off)

        Somebody could easily conclude from what you had originally written — “he doesn’t live in Korea” and “is knowledgeable about Korea” — that I’m someone with little or no first-hand experience with life in Seoul or Korea who just blogs about it from thousands of miles away, someone whose contentious contentions would deserve the dismissive tone you provided. In fact, I’m someone who has lived in Seoul off and on since he was a teenager, spending over a third of his Gen-X life and nearly all of his adult life in Seoul.

        I like this blog and the effort you put into it — it’s one of only a handful whose updates appear in my side bar — which is all the more reason I was taken aback by the irrelevant ad hominem way in which my viewpoint was dealt.

        At any rate, starting next year I may end up being back to being in Seoul full-time; after all, my main research focus on health issues i is Korea. My “return” will be during any one of the following four semesters. It’s probably something I will not announce but just do.

        Comment by kushibo — April 23, 2010 @ 6:43 pm

  4. […] Read the rest at Extra! Korea. […]

    Pingback by Korean Gender Reader: April 19th 2010 « The Grand Narrative — April 19, 2010 @ 12:04 pm

  5. Maybe I should have rephrased “A bold assertion (especially considering that he doesn’t live in Korea)” differently. It was not meant as a swipe at you. OK, look at it now –I removed it, since it didn’t add anything to the post.

    I know that you used to live in Korea, plan to return here, and live here for a few months of the year. However, even living here for four months of the year, does not, in my opinion, qualify as living here, since that means that you live eight to ten months of the year in Hawaii. I guess you would disagree, but I think that most people would agree with me.

    Comment by extrakorea — April 24, 2010 @ 11:42 am

    • Well, the “live here” question is semantics, mostly. My beef was that the way it had written made it sound like I was nearly completely disconnected from what’s going on in Korea yet was making bold assertions about what goes on there.

      I don’t usually tell people I “live” in South Korea. I do tell people I “spend several months a year in Seoul,” or “I work in Korea for several months of the year,” etc. If someone asks where I’m from (not an uncommon question in a university in Hawaii with so many people from all over), I say I’m from Orange County and Seoul (my place of birth and my permanent abode). If someone were to ask if I live in South Korea, I would probably answer I live there for part of the year.

      It’s funny because back in Seoul I end up being there long enough that co-workers in other departments, by August, ask me if I quit school. “You’re still here?” is kinda common by then. 🙂

      Anyway, one thing for sure is that a four- or five-month absence, more than a several-month stay, really gives you a sense of how rapidly things change in Seoul.

      Comment by kushibo — April 24, 2010 @ 7:04 pm

  6. […] of “juniors” in various forms at Korean universities. And especially not on “Membership Training” (MT), which as you probably know involves a lot of drinking and various orientation and […]

    Pingback by Do Seniors Usually Sexually Harass Juniors during MembershipTraining? « The Grand Narrative — May 10, 2011 @ 7:58 am

  7. […] trips –more like games, drinking, chatting, drinking …) I’ve written before about sexual assaults on MTs, as has the Grand Narrative blog. Also, in the comments thread of this blog post, someone asked […]

    Pingback by Students suspected of sexually assaulting classmate on “school field trip” (MT?) « Extra! Korea — June 4, 2011 @ 9:40 am

  8. […] 10. A female college student committed suicide after being sexually harassed – and possibly raped – on a “membership training” trip. Read more at Brian’s blog and Extra! Korea. […]

    Pingback by Most-Read Naver Articles of the Week — April 11, 2010 | KoreaBeat — March 10, 2013 @ 9:34 pm

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