I live in Seoul, South Korea where I teach with my husband. I have lived here for over two years now, and I plan on living here for quite a while. South Korea is a very safe place to live and visit -- there is hardly any crime, zero guns, and only the occasional fight on the street. As a woman living here, I feel incredibly safe walking down the street by myself at 4am. I’ve always thought nothing was going to happen to me. I had been living in kind of a bubble, surrounded by warm fuzzy thoughts of safety and security.
A couple of weeks ago, my little safety bubble popped when my privacy was completely violated.
My cousin had been visiting from Canada, and after a night out on the town in Gangnam (yes, the same from the song "Gangnam Style" -- it's a real place!) we went to McDonald's to grab some late night food. We were there with my husband and a couple of friends. After a while, my cousin and I both had to go to the bathroom, so we ventured out to find one.
Finding bathrooms in Korea can be like going on a toilet treasure hunt. Most of the time, unless the restaurant you’re in is new or fancy, there won’t be a bathroom connected to it. Many stores and restaurants are on the bottom two or three floors of office buildings or apartment buildings, so instead of each restaurant having their own restroom, there is a central one on each floor of the building. The building where the McDonald's was didn't have a bathroom, so we had to go across the street to another building where we found a unisex bathroom.
I know unisex restrooms are a weird concept for Westerners to understand, even as they are becoming more common in America. Here in Korea, however, these kinds of bathrooms are everywhere, mostly in buildings that are smaller and older. They save space and are easier to maintain.
The bathroom we used had a little blocked off area for the women, but the urinals were still visible when we walked in. Around the backside of the women’s stalls were two stalls for men. It was 4:30am, and no one else was in the bathroom. Or so we thought.
We both used the female toilets at the same time, and while I was using mine I looked up and saw a smartphone pointed down at me from the ceiling. I freaked out. I started screaming obscenities, and raced out of the stall.
The creep, oddly enough, didn't run out of the bathroom, but into a men's stall. This provided me with the opportunity to confront the man who had just been videotaping me. I had no idea how long the camera had been pointed at me, how much the person was able to see, or what the camera was actually able to capture. I knew I had to do something, but I honestly didn’t know what to do.
Here's what I did -- I screamed at him until he came out of the stall, and then made him show me his phone so he could delete it. I did not take the phone out of his hands. My cousin exited her stall at that point, and got right in his face, even closer than I did. She grabbed the phone out of his hand and made him show her how to delete the video, because the buttons were all in Korean. She then proceeded to slap him in the face.
I was able to catch a few glimpses of the video. He definitely had caught a few seconds of the toilet and my feet, so I figure that there was enough footage of me on there to identify and expose me. All he could say while this was happening was "Sorry, sorry, sorry."
We exited the bathroom at the same time, and I yelled more obscenities at him as I watched him run down the street and turn the corner. It was then that I broke down crying because it had just hit me what had happened.
My cousin tried to comfort me, and she walked me back to the McDonald's to where my husband was. My husband came out and proceeded to try to find the pervert, but he was nowhere to be found at this point. I am so thankful for both of them for coming to my rescue; I honestly don’t know what I would have done without them. I just couldn't think on my feet. It all happened too quickly, I was frozen. I couldn't react. I didn't know what to do.
Here's what I SHOULD have done -- I should have taken his phone and ran away. I should have run back to the McDonald's, where I knew that there would be people there who were fluent in Korean and English (one of my friends, the manager of the restaurant, probably a few of the other customers seeing as how Gangnam has a high percentage of English speakers). I should have publicly shamed him, called the police, and brought him to justice.
Once I calmed down (which took a couple of hours, a major breakdown in the taxi on the way home, and a long-distance call to my mother), I had to remember that we were able to delete the video, that I would never see this man again, and that I was stronger than this. Yes, my privacy had been violated and I felt dirty, but I also felt lucky. He was not violent, he did not fight when my cousin took his phone, and he ran away. It actually could have been so much worse. I still felt shockwaves of sadness for the next few days, but I had to remind myself that I shouldn’t play the victim.
By sharing my story, I in no way want to deter people from visiting or living in South Korea. It is a beautiful country filled with so many awesome things to see, do, taste and experience. This could honestly happen to anyone, anywhere. There are perverts all over the world, so please be vigilant when using the bathroom.
Unisex bathrooms are becoming more common in North America, and they are common in other parts of the world. While traveling or in your home country, unless you are super familiar with the area and the bathroom you are going to use, always bring someone with you. They can stand guard, whether they stand in front of the stall itself or at the door to the bathroom. Close enough so that if you scream, they will hear you. If you do catch someone videotaping you, act quickly, and chase him down. Get his phone, and call the police. If you cannot get to the pervert or the phone, or lose him in a chase, make as much noise as possible to attract attention to yourself and the situation.
Hopefully someone will come to your assistance. I was lucky to have someone close to me in the bathroom at the time, and I plan on always having someone with me in the future.