In The #MeToo Era, Pyeongchang Is Providing A Resource No Other Olympic Host Has Offered

“Some people might not like it, but this has a symbolic meaning.”

South Korea has its own version of the #MeToo movement, one known as "You Are Not Alone." And though Jeon Won Hee says that movement hasn't fully transformed South Korean culture, it may have inspired the organizers of the 2018 Winter Olympics to open four Gender Equality Support Centers at Olympic sites, including the one where she works as a counselor. The offices' purpose is to combat sexual assault at these Games and NBC News reported Pyeongchang is the first Olympics host to provide such resources.

Jeon and her colleagues at the centers greet visitors, answer calls to a hotline number, provide anonymous therapy and medical treatment, and offer legal resources. 

"I've been worrying about building a sexual violence counseling center at [the Olympics] because some people might not like it," Jeon told NBC News in Korean through a translator. "But this has a symbolic meaning."

The 42-year-old points out that sexual violence can happen "anywhere at anytime" — in public at the Olympic Park or in private at the athletes' villages. 

The International Olympic Committee told NBC News via email it has "been active in the field of prevention of harassment and abuse in sport for many years, and has developed a number of initiatives" — including the creation of a "safeguarding officer" job position, a harassment and abuse hotline for athletes, and a website offering resources.

Olympic athletes are known to party hard between events, and Pyeongchang even set a Winter Olympics record by distributing 110,000 free condoms, but three-time Olympic gold medalist Nancy Hogshead-Makar says understanding consent is just as important as practicing safe sex. (A survivor of rape herself, Hogshead-Makar funded the advocacy group Champion Women to support women and girls in sports.)

Sexual assault and harassment cases rank among the many controversies of the Olympic Games. At the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, for example, a Ugandan swimmer was reportedly accused of sexual assault against a teenager; and at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, a college student volunteer told police she'd been sexually abused by an alpine skier in the Olympic Village. (Even snowboarding star Shaun White faced a sexual harassment lawsuit between Olympic years, and he stoked ire on February 14 by calling his accuser's allegations "gossip" at a press conference in Pyeongchang.)

"It's important to know how far is too far," Hogshead-Maker told NBC News. "Not everyone realizes when they're crossing a line."

The challenge now is spreading the word about these Gender Equality Support Centers. When interviewed, multiple athletes and volunteers told NBC News they weren't aware of the resources at their disposal.

Still, the centers prove the organizers of the Pyeongchang Olympics have made women's safety a priority. "The ultimate goal is to make a safe Olympics," said Kwon Eun Jin, head of women's welfare in the Gangwon-do Provincial Office, "without any sexual assault cases."

Cover image: Singulyarra / Shutterstock.com

GET SOME POSITIVITY IN YOUR INBOX

Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.