As a female solo traveler, the question ”Is this place safe?” is always on my mind when I look at going someplace. I want the answer to be as simple and easy as a yes or no, but the true answer is always more complicated.
We tend to romanticize some places and villainize others. Anything that deviates from this narrative we don’t trust, which is why I believe It’s important to listen to more than one story about a place to understand what ‘safe’ means in that country. (Watch this Ted Talk to know what I mean by more than one story)
The answer to whether Korea is safe is satisticaly yes. However, for some people, in some places, and in some situations in Korea, the answer is much more complex than what the satistics show. Especialy since satistics only show reported crimes.
I will give you the long answer based on my experiences, research, observations, and listening to people’s experiences here in Korea. I am by no means a legal expert or am giving legal advice. I am just here to provide a broder perspective on safety in Korea that I hope to provide with other countries I vist of live, in the future.
When it comes to getting your things stolen, Korea is highly safe. With CCTV everywhere and strict punishment for offenders, it’s easy to see why you can leave your items unattended (including purse and cellphone) and return to them untouched.
When it comes to walking down the street at night, you’ll be pretty safe compared to the rest of the world. Again this is due to CCTV being everywhere and people minding their own business. In Korea, you’re less likely to have someone mess with you than in most parts of the world. Not to say that people don’t get followed while walking home because they absolutely do. Women experience this more often than it’s reported. Overall, most people feel safe walking alone 80% of the time.
The lack of theft and feeling safe while walking down the street no matter the hours is super important when it comes to assesing how safe of an area is. As I talk about the things that make Korea unsafe or relativly safed you should remener those two imortant points. I sould also mention that personally, I have never felt in physical danger in Korea. That being said there are a few things that make Korea unsafe that are harder to see unless you have lived here for a bit.
One of the most common things you hear from travelers and ex-pats alike in Korea is that there’s never any crime in the news. They don’t know this is due to laws, not the lack of crime. The Korean media can’t report on most crimes the way they do in other countries because of identity protection laws. These laws protect both the victim and the perpetrator. On top of the lack of the media’s ability to report crimes, you should know about 3 other laws (or lack of) before you add to the single-sided story that Korea is safe.
First, you should know that as of 2022, Korea has no anti-discrimination laws. This affects things like hate crimes against POC and LGBTQ people and discrimination at work due to age, immigration status, gender, and disabilities. You’ll hear this talked about on social media in the context of bars having no foreigner signs or schools’ hiring practices of NET’s, but it goes deeper than that. To put it into perspective, how serious this is; as recently as 2015, people with mental and physical disabilities were in-slaved on salt farms on the Shinan Islands. This was not the first case, nor do I believe that it will be the last case of slavery in Korea until an anti-discrimination law (and better worker rights) is passed.
Secondly, is that Korea has strong deflation laws. These laws are so strong that even if you win in court against your abuser or company that broke your contract, you could be counter-sued for defamation, and they will win. That’s right, your abuser who is found guilty could win money from you in court. These defamation laws also hold people who are witnessing a crime back from calling the cops because they can and most certainly will get sued. If you have been looking TickTok, vlogs, or even booking websites may notice the lack of negative reviews on places. The defamation laws are the reason why.
The third law or lack thereof that makes Korea a little unsafe is that there are no self-defense laws or “good samaritan” laws. You are considered an attacker when you throw a punch against your attacker or step in between two people fighting. Many people who have been attacked or sexually harassed can only run away. They can’t stop a punch or remove someone’s hand because that can be seen as a provocation by Korean courts. The lack of good samaritan laws is also why if you are ever in a bad situation in public, everyone will ignore it and pretend like nothing is happening. Unfortunately, I hear a lot from Koreans and ex-pats alike: don’t call or ask for help because no one will come.
Now that you know some laws or lack thereof that bring Korea’s reputation for being safe into question, it should come as no surprise that police corruption plays a role as well. For those who grew up with the narrative that the police are here to help you, it may be a surprise that they do not protect everyone equally. Korean police are as corrupted as those in any other country. Korean Police have a reputation for believing Koreans over foreigners despite the evidence. They are also known for recommending the perpetrator to pay off the victim, so no legal action needs to be taken. This happens a lot to Koreans and non-Koreans alike, especially regarding property damage, physical violence, abuse, and rape. In addition to this, it’s not uncommon to see the police stand by and watch a fight or a female get physically unwanted advances from a male. Unfortunately, We should no longer be surprised when the police act this way, no matter which country you’re in.
The last thing I want to mention, which is always overlooked when discussing how safe a place is, is that there is a difference between feeling physically and mentally/emotionally safe. We often forget (mostly white cis-gender people) that experiencing discrimination, racism, and xenophobia, even if it’s ‘just’ micro aggressions, can make someone feel unsafe even though there’s no threat of physical harm. Experiencing micro-aggressions such as people moving seats on the subway, putting on a mask when they talk to you and not Koreans, or receiving a significantly lower quality of customer service will whare you down. It also should not be taken lightly that some places will not allow entry in Korean as a foreigner, especially if you are BIPOC or southeast Asian. Nor that being out as an LGBTQ+ person is risky. Being excluded from one place of work or business feels like no big deal until you are tired and hungry after a long day and can’t eat at a restaurant, or you have plans to go to a new club for your birthday and are denied access.
Recently due to the racism and xenophobia at clubs, the ex-pat community put together a short list of popular places** where BIPOC foreigners (including other Asians) can go. They also made a note of LGBTQ+ friendly places. The fact that they feel a need to protect their community’s mental and emotional safety should speak for itself.
To summarize, the long answer to
‘Is Korea safe?’ Over all YES it is.
BUT if your are female you still have to keep your wits about because Korea is safe till it isn’t, then there is no help to be found.
BUT as a forgiener you wont be welcome every place especialy if your POC.
BUT if you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community you are not accepted in society.
BUT if you are disabled their are no discrimination laws ther to protect you and acessibility is almost non existant.
BUT As someone looking to move here I recomend making yourself aware of the legal climate so you feel empowered to speak up for your rights and have a better understanding of what is diffrent from your home country so you can stay safe.
Although I am writing this from my perspective as a foreigner in Korea, it should be noted that many Koreans are also outraged about the same safety issues in Korea. Unfortunately, many movements that seek change to the system, like the feminist movement, get vilified by the patriarchy, so these voices get silenced and many crimes against these groups go unreported.
I don’t want to discourage you from coming to Korea. Korea has a lot to offer, and comparatively, Korea is safer than many places in the world. Just remember as you travel or move abroad that safty is a complex issue that cant be answered by listening to one persons story or with a yes or no answer.
****Unique Situations. This list is the brainchild of @k.keels and @theexpatpat who both can be found on TikTok. This ‘green book’ of Korean clubs and lounges is in no way complete will all the places in Korea on the list. Unique situations the ‘green book list’ is in @k.keels bio
Do You Want to Know More?
More info on Unique Situations
@k.keels (Unique situations the ‘green book list’ is in her bio)
About Korean Law
@bashore101 – An expat who has been in Korea for many years and has taken Korean Law classes
@leenlaw – A Korean Lawyer
Korean Law Information Center in English
Labor Standards Act -For those of you looking to work and teach in Korea
In The News: A Sampleing of Why Having no Anti-Discrimination Laws are a Safty Issue
The Islands of Abuse: Inside South Koreas’s Slave Farms for the Disabled –The Independet– By Foster Klug
How Feminism Became a Dirty Word in South Korea –The Diplomat– By Spencer Hines and Jay Song
500 femicides: The epidemic of violence against women in Korea–Hankyoreh– by Um Ji-won
‘We were nevery really welcome anywhere’: People with disabilities fighting for rights in Korea– Korean Times– Video by Lee Min-young and Kim Kang -min
Queer South Koreans Hope for for an Anti-Discrimination Law to End decades of Discrimination– TIME– by Sungub Billy Choo and Sangsuk Sylivia Kang
** By no means am I, Madeline Lindsey Greenwalt or this blog giving leagal advice. This has been writened based off of personal experince, reasearch and the experience of others and by no means does it or I speak for the whole of Korea or the experiences of every individual with in or visiting Korea. I am not a lawyer or person of the law. I Madeline Lindsy Greenwalt nor this blog am not liable for anything done because of reading this blog it is an opinion piece and should be taken as such**
**This piece is an opinion peice that are mine, Madeline Lindsey Greenwalt and mine alone and do not reflect those of people, news stations or articles I have linked. Nor do the opinions or actions in the articles represent me**
**If your ever in any danger or feel like your rights are being violated PLEASE call the POLIECE Imediatly and ask for help. This blog was not writen to discourage nor do I madeline Lindsey Greenwalt want to discourage you from doing the right thing or contacting poliece when you are in danger. Please always doo what you need to do to feel safe**
**I Madeline Lindsey Greenwalt nor this blog is liable for anything said or done based of the contents in this blog. I am not a Lawyer or person of the law. Please seek leagal counsale when needed**