As we are still mourning the sudden and violent death of Dr. Tiller in Wichita, KS last week, the condition of women and that of their protectors and defensors seem to be worsening in a worrying way. It is becoming increasingly hard for a woman to stand up and feel free in a western world supposedly at war against discrimination and intolerance, yet violations of basic human rights and the failure to recognize attacks as nothing more than a glitch in the span of space are hard to come by. Women appear to have been propulsed back into the corset of shame and guilt they were stuck into back at the beginning of the 20th century, so ice-cold and ucomfortable is the reception made for women who speak the truth and explain the complexities and hardships of their lives.

Sexual behaviour and the ensuing alleged moral dilemma surrounding abortion and contraception might take center stage in the United States, but elsewhere in the world, the trauma provoked by domestic violence is still a damaging and sometimes murdering taboo. In Korea, a young woman has recently lost her job and is facing public trial for being a victim of her husband’s violence. In 2004, Choi Jin Shil applied to be the representing model for Shinhan Engineering & Construction Co. Ltd. The contract was clear in its stipulation that Choi Jin Shil was to represent the company in a joyful, positive, and attracting way – she was to ensure the trust of potential customers. As a model, her image was to be clean-cut, family-friendly, and whatever troubles she might be going through at the time of the photoshoot were to disappear behind the face of a woman who would put her life in the hands of Shinhan Engineering & Construction Co. Until one day, make-up artists saw their limits.

Choin Jin Shil and her two children

Choin Jin Shil and her two children

Choi Jin Shil was a popular actress in Korea; and when her bruised and swollen face surfaced in the national papers, the result of her husband Jo Sung Min, it was obvious she could not, at least until her face healed, appeared “dignified” and “happy” as her contract with Shinhan wanted her to be. The company didn’t show support to its employee, it didn’t prove compassion, nor did it even try to use the opportunity to campaign against the horror of domestic violence; it chose, instead, to sue Choi Jin Shil for breach of contract. The contract asked for 500 million won (approx. $400,000) for eventual damages made to their image, but in that specific instances, given the severe aspect of the damage caused to Choi’s face, Shinhan sued for 3 billion won (about $2 million). No one ever considered, in this instances, that the damage Choi’s husband caused to her, her family, her professional credibility, her lifestyle and her mental well-being could be more than a series of zeroes. No one ever considered that Jo Sung Min could be the one responsible for the tarnished image of the company. Choi Jin Shil, as a woman, is not just entirely responsible for upholding contractual clauses, she is also responsible for the violence she is a victim of, and must pay the price for other people’s crimes. She is a woman after all.

In the early weeks of October 2008, this burden finally ended when Choi Jin Shil committed suicide. This wasn’t enough for Shinhan Construction, since nine months after her death, they finally won their case at the Korean Supreme Court, which ruling gives us women folk fantastic food for thought: “We use this model so that their image will attract customers. The model’s failure to maintain a decent image is a breach of contract.” The obligation to appear delightful and delighted was not respected, and the causes of the change were never addressed. Whatever happened in the Jin Shil household is not supposed to affect Shinhan Construction in the slightest. I guess her death can also be considered a breach of contract, considering she can no longer appear at all to represent the company. Someone should perhaps sue the undertaker for daring burying her six feet under before the contract even came to its rational and legal end.

Amidst the ugly custody battle surrounding Choi Jin Shil’s two children and the disgusting amount of money requested to compensate for her husband’s inhumane mediocrity, lies the ideal of a woman trying to concile professional success and personal happiness, a woman believing in its own freedom, be it contractual, legal, or emotional. At the core of this Supreme Court ruling lies the fundamental respect that is due to any victim of a misdemeanour, felony, or crime; the basic compassion that must be felt towards anyone whose lives has been altered in a violent and arbitrary way, and who should therefore be protected by the law. On top of the nightmare endured by Choi Jin Shil’s family, who recently lost their daughter, sister and mother, lies the question of whether a woman is allowed to ever even just aspire to a decent standard of living, free from fear, free from bloodshed, free from male domination, and free from oppression. Domestic violence is not a question of intimacy or personal boundaries. Domestic violence is a crime that must be reported and legally condemned – but not because the victim failed to appear “dignified” and “happy” about it.

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