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Why South Koreans are protesting over one woman's death

The stabbing death of a 23-year-old woman has struck a nerve in a country where many women say they are increasingly afraid of threats, abuse and attacks by men.

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Mourners march during a rally to pay tribute to a South Korean woman who was stabbed to death near Gangham subway station in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, May 21, 2016. Hundreds of South Koreans have marched in one of Seoul's busiest leisure districts to protest the stabbing death of a 23-year-old woman that struck a nerve in a country where many women live in fear of being attacked.

(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

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Hundreds of South Koreans marched in one of Seoul's busiest leisure districts on Saturday to protest the stabbing death of a 23-year-old woman. Her death has struck a nerve in a country where, despite its reputation for being relatively safe, many women say they are increasingly afraid of threats, abuse and attacks by men.

The protesters, many wearing white masks and vinyl coats, began their march at a gate of southern Seoul's Gangnam subway station, near where the victim was attacked by a male stranger early Tuesday in a building's bathroom.

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It was the fourth straight day of memorial events and other gatherings following the attack.

Statistics show that violent crimes against women are rising in South Korea. The latest statistics from the Supreme Prosecutors' Office show that in 2014, women accounted for around 85 percent of the country's 34,000 victims of "heinous" violent crimes, including murder, robbery and sex crimes.

Some experts see women as becoming more vulnerable to violence and threats in everyday life, often by economically struggling men who feel marginalized and are eager to vent their frustration on women, who compete against them for jobs and social status.

The Gangnam subway gate has been covered by seemingly thousands of post-it messages, the majority of them apparently from women who expressed grief and fears about potentially becoming random targets of violence. Post-it walls have appeared in other major South Korean cities as well, including Busan and Daejeon.

"As another woman in her 20s, I feel devastated about this incident because it could have been me," read a note attached to the subway gate in Seoul.

"I want to live in a place where I don't have to be told I must be careful because I am a woman," said another note.

Police on Friday arrested a suspect in the attack — an unemployed 34-year-old man with a history of schizophrenia.

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Police said the man waited around 40 minutes for a woman to appear at the bathroom before stabbing the victim at around 1 a.m. Tuesday with a knife he had brought. He told officers he attacked the woman because he felt that women have been "dismissive" of him.

The Korea Herald reports that the idea to leave tributes to the late victim was initiated by two online communities for women, who created a Twitter account on Wednesday. The account handle is @0517am1, in reference to the day and time the victim lost her life. 

“A young woman who was just having drinks with her friends was stabbed to death only because she went to the public bathroom (in the same building) in the middle of the gathering,” one of the tweets said, asking the public to support the cause. “If we don’t do anything about this case, then the next victim could be any one of us.”
Cho Su-min, a 23-year-old woman, said she came to the site after learning about the case via Twitter. “I feel scared and powerless,” she told The Korea Herald. “But I feel this is the least I can do. It’s especially devastating because I’ve been thinking that among all areas in Seoul, Gangnam is one of the safer areas.”


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