Bullying Accusations Snare K-Pop Stars and Athletes in South Korea


An Woo-jin, 23, is without doubt one of the high pitchers in South Korea. In 2022, he led the Korea Baseball Group, the nation’s high league, in earned run average and strikeouts. However the Ok.B.O. didn’t invite him to play within the World Baseball Traditional, a world match that includes Main League Baseball stars that begins subsequent week.

The Ok.B.O. has stated it excluded Mr. An, who has been dogged by nameless accusations that he assaulted his teammates whereas in highschool, as a result of it considers him a reputational legal responsibility. He was not considered final yr for an award given to the Ok.B.O.’s greatest pitcher due to these accusations.

No expenses have ever been filed, and Mr. An has stated that information experiences about his bullying, for which he apologized on the time, have been exaggerated. But many South Koreans, together with baseball followers, have stated they help his exclusion.

Over the past twenty years, public accusations of faculty bullying and violence have performed an more and more distinguished function in South Korean tradition — Netflix even has successful present on the topic, “The Glory.” Leisure businesses vet would-be pop stars for proof of bullying of their pasts.

Final week, President Yoon Suk Yeol withdrew the appointment of Jung Quickly-shin as chief of the Nationwide Workplace of Investigation in response to experiences that Mr. Jung’s son had verbally harassed a highschool classmate in 2017, and that Mr. Jung had defended him as a substitute of holding him accountable.

Many South Koreans consider that bullies have broken victims’ lives in an irreversible manner, stated Jihoon Kim, a criminologist on the College of Alabama who has studied bullying in South Korea. “The thought of damaging the profession of a bully is just not seen as problematic, as they’re seen as deserving it,” he stated.

Takedowns of accused bullies stay fashionable, regardless of considerations about accountability and credibility, provided that in lots of circumstances the accusations are nameless. Critics have additionally questioned whether or not the hurt finished to reputations is disproportionate to the offenses.

A nationwide dialog round college bullying started taking form within the Nineties, after a number of teenage targets of such abuse died by suicide. A 2004 regulation to stop bullying was extensively thought of a second of reckoning, however a extreme lack of psychological well being companies for bullies and their victims has persevered, stated Jun Sung Hong, a professor of social work at Wayne State College who has written about bullying in South Korea.

Penalties for bullying in South Korea are typically much less extreme than in america. There, college harassment is continuously grounds for suspension or expulsion, whereas many South Korean faculties simply impose neighborhood service or a restraining order, stated Noh Yoon Ho, a lawyer in Seoul who has suggested bullying victims.

Nonetheless, Ms. Noh stated, extra victims and bystanders have been reporting college bullying, and the institutional mechanisms for doing so have improved. In a authorities survey, 91 p.c of people that stated they skilled bullying final yr reported it, in contrast with 78 p.c in 2014.

As individuals have come ahead with previous bullying accusations, some have recognized public figures, together with athletes and entertainers, as perpetrators.

In 2021, two skilled volleyball gamers, the dual sisters Lee Jae-yeong and Lee Da-yeong, then 24 years previous, have been lower from their Korean golf equipment after they admitted to having verbally abused their teammates in center college. That prompted a spate of bullying accusations towards different athletes and a plea by then-President Moon Jae-in for the Tradition Ministry to “make particular efforts to eradicate the issue.”

Final yr, Hybe, the company behind the boy band BTS, kicked out Kim Ga-ram from its nascent lady group Le Sserafim, after nameless accusers stated the singer had verbally abused them. Hybe threatened to sue her accusers for defamation, however later ended Ms. Kim’s contract after a regulation agency representing one of many accusers threatened to publicly launch proof.

Victims would possibly select anonymity out of worry that public accusations may immediate retaliation from the previous bullies or their allies, Ms. Noh stated. However some nameless accusations circulating within the South Korean information media are lower than they appear.

After the comic Hong Hyun-hee was accused two years in the past in an internet submit of getting been a college bully, former classmates of hers denied the accusation, and he or she filed a defamation lawsuit. Her accuser later withdrew the post and apologized for having a “reminiscence lapse,” Ms. Hong’s company stated.

Different critics say that the takedowns will be too punitive. Living proof: the pitcher, An Woo-jin.

Mr. An’s troubles started in 2017, when a TV community reported that he had assaulted youthful gamers on his highschool staff.

The police decided that Mr. An, then 17, had hit three youthful college students within the head with a baseball, a cellphone and a belt buckle, and a fourth scholar on the shin with a bat, in keeping with police data offered by his lawyer. After the scholars determined to not file expenses, saying that Mr. An’s habits had not been extreme, prosecutors dropped the case.

The allegations towards Mr. An, a 6-foot-3 right-hander who throws 99 mile-per-hour fastballs, didn’t cease him from going skilled the identical yr. The Kiwoom Heroes signed him for 600 million received, or about $470,000. No new accusations of bullying have emerged.

However the claims proceed to shadow his profession.

In 2017, the Korea Baseball Softball Affiliation, which governs its nationwide groups, barred him from the Olympics and the Asian Video games. In January, the Korea Baseball Group, which selects the staff for the World Baseball Classic, stated he wouldn’t participate within the match, which begins Tuesday.

The staff was chosen with a watch towards “the symbolic which means, accountability and worth that comes with representing the nation,” the group’s spokesman, Lee Kyong-ho, stated in an interview. “Is it proper to pick gamers based mostly solely on their abilities?”

Fueling public anger is a notion that the penalties Mr. An’s highschool imposed — 5 hours of volunteer work and a written apology — have been too mild. However Mr. An’s lawyer, Baek Sung-moon, stated in an interview that the choice to ban him from worldwide tournaments had apparently been based mostly on an impression that his bullying was harsher than reported.

“He has had a tough time being considered as some sort of a college bullying demon,” he added.

Mr. An’s defenders embrace Shin-Soo Choo, an outfielder who played 16 years within the majors and now performs within the Ok.B.O. He stated final month that “South Koreans don’t appear to simply forgive.”

“He repented his errors, obtained punished and was suspended from tournaments,” Mr. Choo told a Korean-language station in Dallas, including that Mr. An’s skills may make him “the following Chan Ho Park,” an All-Star pitcher who was the first South Korean-born M.L.B. player.

However many critics of Mr. An have taken situation with Mr. Choo’s efforts to face up for him. Amongst them is Mr. Park himself, who retired from baseball in 2012.

“An Woo-jin’s exclusion from the W.B.C. nationwide staff was a mirrored image of the instances,” he told reporters on a go to to the Heroes’ spring coaching camp in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“I advised him to not be so unhappy,” he added.

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