Samsung sponsored this simple yet striking interactive billboard in Seoul during the recent holiday season in order to encourage people to seek help and report cases of child abuse. In many cultures including South Korea, child abuse remains a growing yet ignored issue in families and institutions. Ageism and sexism play a large role here, where younger people are highly discouraged to challenge their elders under any circumstances and males are automatically entitled to a dominant status in the social and familial hierarchy.
A quick perusal at many of the stories in Korean pop culture, from books to movies and music, barely reveal an underlying issue at stake but child abuse sadly remains a taboo, off-limits topic for the most part. Perhaps this is the reason why this public art-PSA project received so much positive attention and reaction in Korea as well as around the world.
Child abuse is a human subject, not a cultural circumstance—but culture plays a significant role in whether abuse thrives or not. Korean culture emphasizes the sovereignty of the elders, but what happens when the elders are guilty of wrongdoing? That’s when the true core of the problem reveals itself: the enablers in the situation. Individuals simply cannot continue abusive behavior for very long without corrupt support from people who deliberately choose to look the other way or flat out disbelieve the victim (as if the victim has anything to gain from such a revolting subject) while only looking out for themselves.
It does not matter whether the abuse is physical, emotional, verbal, or mental—enabling such perversion is simply a selfish, knee-jerk reaction that often leaves the outspoken victim alone, banished outside of the familial circled wagons.
This is not moral behavior, it is human nature at its most heart-sinking. Despite many Koreans’ religious identities (Christianity, Confucianism, and/or Buddhism are influential backgrounds for most families), the skyrocketing statistics of child abuse in Korea seem to indicate that religious piety isn’t all it claims to be. And the fact that South Korea ranks #1 in suicides for OECD countries shows that something is inherently wrong even after children get older.
Fortunately, this PSA billboard tackles not only the idea of acknowledging child abuse (a huge obstacle for many stubborn minds in the first place), but also refraining from looking the other way and actually intervening, whether or not it “rocks the boat.” Passersby can step in between the adult and child shadows and actually witness the visual morality play out in front of their eyes. Hopefully these observers would do the same thing in a real-life situation.
It is all too easy to simply claim “it is not our place” when it comes to ugly subjects like this. Nobody likes to spend time on these matters, least of all the victim.
Those who enable abusers are just as guilty as the initial perpetrator, particularly when they come to erroneous conclusions after ignorantly listening to only one side of the story. Families are supposed to be havens of love and safety, but that is simply not reality for many children and adults alike, particularly when parents choose to be incapable of any self reflection—this delusional woman is a perfect example.
I hope this campaign ignited some useful conversations. Many people who claim to be pious and ethical may be utilizing the knowledge of abuse like a juicy tidbit of gossip, misjudging situations they know little about in order to feel better about their own issues. This is abuse as well, continuing in a peripheral cycle. Only with frank dialogue can this kind of hypocrisy and simple-mindedness be put to rest.
This kind of automatic doubt and corruption reminds me of the sheer injustice that humans have proven to be very capable of on all scales—genocides where entire countries looked the other way as millions were slaughtered, or rapes where the victim is somehow blamed while the perpetrator is protected.
The thing that all of these grotesque examples have in common with child abuse? The corrupt and dishonest support system of people who choose to enable the criminals.
Let’s not be biased about confronting abuse. More on the international emergency 112 number.