Woman killed in Seoul 'because she's a woman'

Random murder sparks outrage and arouses concern over gender violence

Passers-by looking at Post-it notes at the exit of Gangnam Station, written in memory of a woman stabbed nearby.
Passers-by looking at Post-it notes at the exit of Gangnam Station, written in memory of a woman stabbed nearby. PHOTO: TWITTER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

SEOUL • Exit 10 of Seoul's busy Gangnam Station has been turned into a makeshift memorial site for a young woman stabbed to death earlier this week.

White flowers were left at the entrance and the walls were covered with Post-it messages expressing outrage and shock at the random killing of the 23-year-old woman.

She was stabbed multiple times at around 1am on Tuesday in the public toilet of a four-storey building near the subway station.

She had been at a bar with a group of friends, and her body was discovered minutes later by her boyfriend, reported JoongAng Ilbo.

A 34-year-old suspect, who was arrested hours after the crime, told the police he did not know the victim. He was working part-time at another bar in the same building, reported The Korea Times yesterday.

The suspect said he "had often been looked down upon by women" and the victim was targeted simply because "she was a woman" - comments which sparked much soul-searching in deeply patriarchal South Korean society.

"No one should die just because she is a woman," read one of the messages.

"I know I could have been you," said another message.

The murder and subsequent public reaction received wide media coverage, with JoongAng Ilbo newspaper running an editorial headlined "Women at risk".

While noting the murder might have been a random act by a mentally unstable man, the newspaper said it had lifted the lid on simmering anger and concern over gender violence.

Police said on Thursday the case should not be seen as a hate crime against women.

The suspect suffers from schizophrenia and had not been taking his medication since he ran away from home in March.

He had been living on the streets and sleeping in stairways of buildings in Gangnam.

Experts say a sharp rise in youth unemployment and growing income disparities in a highly competitive and status-conscious society have stoked feelings of inadequacy and created new tensions, reported Agence France-Presse.

Some women commented that when violence against women occurs in South Korea, the female victims are blamed too. They would be shamed for "being too drunk" or "hanging out late at night".

Last year, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family advised women against wearing miniskirts when riding the subway in its campaign advertisement against sexual harassment.

Ms Cho Su Min, 23, said she went to the memorial site after learning about the case via Twitter.

"I feel scared and powerless," she told The Korea Herald.

"But I feel this is the least I can do. It's especially devastating because I've been thinking that among all the areas in Seoul, Gangnam is one of the safer areas."

A Twitter user posted: "The world keeps telling women about things they should not be doing, such as not being out late at night, not going to dangerous places and not wearing revealing clothes. Now there is another one? Not going to a public restroom past 1am."

Statistics show violence against women is prevalent in South Korea.

According to a 2014 study, up to 50 per cent of women there have been physically abused by their partners at least once.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 21, 2016, with the headline Woman killed in Seoul 'because she's a woman'. Subscribe