The #MeToo movement that has erupted in Western culture has had far-reaching consequences. For the first time in history, the Olympic Park is officially providing support to athletes and spectators who say they’re victims of sexual assault. The traditional safeguarding methods were deemed insufficient.
For Jeon Won Hee, the change is symbolic.
“I’ve been worrying about building a sexual violence counseling center at [the Olympics] because some people might not like it… But this has a symbolic meaning,” she said.
“This is very meaningful, but the more important thing is knowing that sexual violence can occur anywhere at any time.”
The centers are referred to as “Gender Equality Support Centers.” They’re staffed with counselors and medical professionals who are instructed to protect their patient’s anonymity.
For decades a “safeguarding officer” has been employed to monitor the games and protect athletes from assault. In the wake of the cultural revolution that has taken place regarding sexual assault, however, something more needed to be done.
Organizations that don’t go above and beyond to protect its employees and customer from sexual assault may be opening themselves up to a lawsuit.
“It is a great time to seize this opportunity to start having an open discussion,” said Hyeouk Chris Hahm, a Boston University professor who has researched sexual attitudes South Koreans.
Over 110,000 free condoms were made available for the Winter Olympics. Safe sex is nearly as important as consensual sex. South Korea is a very conservative society, referencing sex in public is highly unusual.
“Basically in Korea, we don’t talk much about sex or sex education,” said Jack Jung, a spokesman for South Korean Convenience Co. “It’s because our work culture is very traditional, and because of religion. We didn’t get any sex education when we were young or we were in high school.”
The Olympic village where the athletes reside is known for being a scene of sexual freedoms. Thousands of healthy, pumped-up young people are crammed into a small area. Soccer star Hope Solo famously described the scene.
“With a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you want to build memories, whether it’s sexual, partying or on the field… I’ve seen people having sex right out in the open. On the grass, between buildings, people are getting down and dirty,” she said.
Women around the world are finding the courage to report their abusers. Men who’ve gotten away with preying on women for decades are finally getting their comeuppance. There haven’t been a lot of sexual assault cases reported at previous games, but organizers want to be prepared regardless.
“The power of the Olympics can shine a light on preventing sexual misconduct, said Kwon Eun Jin, the head of women’s welfare in the Gangwon-do Provincial Office.
South Korean women are beginning to fight back as well. A public prosecutor accused a former judge of groping her last month, and her accusation became a national story.
South Korean manufacturer Convenience Co. is providing the condoms for the games, but a report by NBC showed that a condom advertisement hasn’t aired in the country for over five years. The company has spoken about its hopes of transforming the local culture.
Strides are being made. Condom vending machines have popped up in recent months, charging roughly four cents per condom. The proceeds to a youth health center in Seoul.
However, because the machines are targeted to teens, they’re highly controversial.
“My parents ask me if all this is really necessary for teenagers… They don’t want to tell others what I’m doing,” company founder Seong Min-Hyun said.
The conservative attitude that prevails in South Korea makes the decision to open sexual assault centers in Pyeongchang even more striking. The #MeToo movement is having a profound effect on the world. Powerful businessmen and entertainers have been toppled, companies have been forced to reorganize.
“The ultimate goal is to make a safe Olympics, without any sexual assault cases,” Kwon Eun Jin said.
Because the men and women visiting the center will be anonymous, it’s possible that the public may never know if they were helpful or not. Of course, the International Olympic Committee thinks it’s brilliant.