A lawmaker called for stricter visa regulations for native English teachers in a bid to root out sexual violence and harassment of minors.
Rep. Choi Young-hee of the main opposition Democratic Party said that education authorities should better screen E-2 or English teaching visa holders for drug use and past criminal records.
The lawmaker proposed a bill last year that would subject native English teachers to a stricter screening process when they are recruited but the bill is still pending at the National Assembly. She said the bill should be passed as soon as possible.
"With the government's English immersion programs, the demand for native English speakers is increasing, but there is no system to screen out inappropriate teachers and properly manage them," she said.
We first read about Choi's proposed laws last fall, via Gusts of Popular Feeling. They're back in the news now after a teacher suspected of molesting students fled to Japan.
I'm not defending that teacher, and I'm not suggesting---like some have---that looking critically at regulations means I consider the reputation of foreign male English teachers more important than the safety of Korean children. However, as we have come to expect from Choi and reporter Kang Shin-who, there is conflation at work:
Choi pointed out that teachers committing sex crimes have been subject to rather lighter punishment and some of them were able to obtain teaching positions again at other schools or private language institutes, which are called hagwon in Korea.
"The bill is aimed at closing loopholes in current regulations involving E-2 visa holders," she said. "By obliging them to present criminal and drug test results that were issued less than one month from when they apply for teaching positions, schools and hagwon will be able to exclude native English speakers who were caught for taking drugs or sexually harassing children."
Teachers committing sex crimes have indeed been subject to lighter punishment, though these teachers have been Korean. This story from last April comes quickly to mind:
A temporary teacher at a middle school in North Chungcheong Province was arrested for raping and molesting female teenagers, police said Wednesday. He had previously been convicted on seven counts of sexual assault and other crimes.
Police said the contract-based teacher, identified as Min, sexually assaulted an unidentified middle school student in February at a motel in the province. Police said the student was a runaway at the time and the 31-year-old approached her, saying he would rent a motel room to be used as a temporary ``shelter.''
He is also accused of molesting another teenage girl at a karaoke bar the following month, police said.
Police are widening their investigation to find out whether he committed other crimes.
Currently, criminal records of those sentenced to less than three years in prison are removed after five years. As such, schools can't always ascertain the criminal record of would-be teachers.
But more to the point, this from the Korea Times in October:
Teachers committing sexual crimes have been let off with just light punishments, Rep. Choi Young-hee of the Democratic Party said Thursday.
A total of 124 sexual crimes involving elementary and secondary school teachers were reported to the education authorities between 2006 and 2009. Among them, 47 involved prostitution, 43 were sexual harassment and five were rape cases.
However, only eight teachers (6 percent) were given prison sentences, while 31 were not indicted and 28 received suspended sentences.
``It seems that teachers were exempt from punishment through out-of-court settlements with the parents of the victims,'' Rep Choi said.
``Moreover, each city and provincial education offices, which were supposed to strictly punish those teachers, gave only verbal warnings. Only 21 teachers were fired for sexual violence.''
According to data collected by the lawmaker, nearly 60 percent of the assailants were merely warned or reprimanded.
And here's some more conflation of foreign English teachers and sex crimes, with some local papers taking the opportunity to use "brutal sex crimes" and foreigners in the same paragraph.
Choi's proposals are actually talking about increased checks for Korean teachers as well, though you wouldn't know it from an article looking only at foreign ones. One has to wonder what the specific "loopholes in current regulations involving E-2 visa holders" are, considering teachers already submit criminal background checks and are subject to degree verifications, and have been doing so for years. We've read about "loopholes" several times in the past two years, pertaining to ethnic Koreans or English teachers on other visas not subject to the same background checks, though I'm not sure of any specifically relating to E-2 visa holders and sex crimes.
Talk on Dave's ESL Cafe indicates there are some changes to the E-2 visa process on the way, specifically regarding federal background checks from the United States, though there is no consensus yet on what those changes are or when they will take effect. And in the Korea Times today is news of more drug tests aimed at prospective teachers:
The Korean government's move to add new drug tests for an English teaching or E-2 visa is drawing protests from foreign teachers.
From this Thursday, those who want to obtain the visa should receive an additional "cannabinoids" drug tests, which detects marijuana, on top of a "TBPE," the Ministry of Justice said.