Public Harassment: Korea Vs England

Public Harassment: Korea Vs England

Public/Street harassment (sexual harassment in Korean 성희롱 ‘sungheelong’) is the unsolicited interaction forced on a stranger due to their gender, race or sexual orientation. These unwanted actions can range from mild to severe. Street etiquette is very different in South Korea and England, so a comparison drawing on the differences will provide an insight into the two cultures.

Street Atmosphere

In England, streets are often barren at night making you feel alone and vulnerable. Anti-social behaviour from gangs of delinquents who loiter on the streets at night may make walking home alone scary. Although majority of the time they are harmless teens, there is always the risk of mugging and knife crime in certain areas. Even in safe and gentrified areas where street harassment is unlikely, being out at night is risky.

In Korea, knife crime, gun crime and muggings on the streets are rare so the night streets feel safer than England. Business is open till late, blaring bright neon lights shine from buildings, lines of steaming food carts and 24 hour cafes make the night as busy as the day. In some areas, even masses of children commute home after finishing their academies at 10 O’clock.

Comments and Catcalling

Catcalling can range from a simple whistle to a disturbing and foul rant. The ‘lad culture’ and historical patriarchy in Europe has fortified this behaviour, as verbal harassment is common in England.  Racist comments directed at ethnic minorities are controversial, but does still happen (especially towards Middle Eastern ethnicities). The taunting and whistling is intimidating and frightening.

In Korea verbal sexual harassment is uncommon. Racial harassment is unheard of for Koreans in Korea due to the homogeneous society, but foreigners in Korea may have a different story to tell. Being approached and talked to directly is more likely to occur. The bluntness of language in Korean culture, could be considered rude to some. Although it may not be intended as an insult, stating the obvious may sometimes not be politically correct, for instance frank comments addressing one’s appearance could be seen as offensive.


Publicly gawping or pointing at someone in England is not only rude, but is considered harassment as this behaviour objectifies women. You can legally press charges and file a restraining order against someone who is leering and making any provocative action against you.

Unfortunately publicly staring and blatantly pointing is common in some parts of Korea, as it is not a mainstream etiquette rule as of yet. I have personally witnessed someone leering on a girl, make eye-contact, and continue. Some can even go far as to use their smartphone cameras as binoculars to zoom in on someone far away or take a fake selca/selfie just to zoom in on a particular person in the background. Smartphone cameras are becoming such a problem that laws banning silent cameras have been put in place.

Physical Contact

Once street harassment gets physical, like being groped or grabbed in public or on public transport it becomes a much more serious issue. Keeping boundaries is an unspoken rule in British culture, so one rarely makes physical contact with people on the streets, however criminals target vulnerable women travelling alone or in compromising situations. 4% of women under 35 have reported to have been touched on London streets and underground, which is lower than other European countries.

In Korean society there are no strict boundaries. People make physical contact with others everyday. Some street promoters even grab people by the wrists and arms in order to get attention. Most of the physical contact and assault cases happen in crowded environments in busy cities. The problem is that victims are not pressing charges, meaning that the exact number of assaults in Korea is unknown. The flawed legal and political system fail the victims, as criminals are not convicted which allows the problem to continue.


Hollaback Korea is the biggest English speaking organisation against harassment in Korea. You can contact them on Twitter, Facebook and their app. There are also other Facebook communities and forums which you can use for more information. For those who can read Korean, this app is popular for reporting harassment on public transport, and you can use this website for more information.

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