SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — Pyo Ye-rim, a hairstylist who became an advocate for the legal rights of school bullying survivors in South Korea, has died in an apparent suicide, local police said. She was 27.
Pyo became a public figure amid South Korea’s “Hakpok #MeToo” phenomenon, which saw the victims of school violence — “hakpok” in Korean — name and confront their abusers decades after the alleged crimes.
She developed a following on YouTube in part by calling for changes to the country’s laws, demanding the statute of limitations on school violence cases be dropped.
Pyo also sought changes to South Korea’s defamation laws to allow victims to speak out without fear of being sued.
After she submitted a petition earlier in the year, a bill was formally introduced at the National Assembly in September.
If passed, the clock on the statute of limitations in violent school bullying cases would not begin running until the victim has reached adulthood.
Critics have argued there are numerous practical issues — and considerations of fairness — with pursuing cases committed by minors years after the fact.
Pyo urged the law’s passage in the final video uploaded to her YouTube account. It has since been removed.
Raised in Uiryeong, a small town in South Gyeongsang province, Pyo had told AFP she had been subjected to vicious bullying from the time she entered grade school.
As a teenager, she had hoped to pursue a career as a librarian. But she would eventually undertake vocational training as a hairdresser to escape what she described as torment by her high school classmates.
Hairdressing was “the only refuge I had at the time”, Pyo told AFP in March.
Throughout her teenage years, “there was only one thing I wished for. I longed for someone, even if it was only a single person, could help me,” she said.
Despite battling depression and insomnia she attributed to her treatment at school, she last year opened her own hair salon, Arin Daum, in the southern port city of Busan.
Statute of limitations
Pyo believed South Korea’s statute of limitations should be changed so bullies could be held accountable for violence perpetrated in schools, even decades later.
But experts say the resultant bill, proposed by MP Kim Young-bae last month, has huge practical issues — primarily the idea of punishing adults for crimes committed as juveniles.
Some have questioned if people deserve lasting criminal records for their misdeeds as teens.
Still, Pyo’s efforts have helped adult survivors of bullying realise “they don’t need to always suffer in silence,” Noh Yoon-ho, a Seoul-based attorney who specialises in school violence cases, told AFP on Friday.
Thanks to Pyo, South Korean society “has begun to consider the extent of damage and trauma that can be inflicted on adult victims if school violence is not resolved properly in their past,” she added.
The late advocate also called for an overhaul of South Korea’s criminal defamation laws, which currently allow alleged bullies to sue their accusers for damages and win — even if their victims are telling the truth.
But accusations are often also anonymous. Such instances have resulted in alleged bullies losing their jobs or, in the case of one of South Korea’s most successful baseball players, being left off the national team.
While there is broad public sympathy for survivors, some have questioned the fairness of such punishments.
Pyo argued that countless survivors still grapple with the repercussions of being bullied during their teenage years.
She was also the frequent target of online abuse from those who challenged the credibility of her claims.
Her body was found Tuesday in the Seongjigok Reservoir in Busan, South Korean police said.
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