The mess that is Kim Hyun-joong‘s very public domestic violence case seems like it will never go away, and is beginning to resemble the convoluted and tragic storyline of a K-drama. Unfortunately, this is not a work of fiction with an easy resolution. It is easy to want to brush aside this story due to its complex nature, but the issues involved (of male privilege, domestic violence and media manipulation, among other things) are simply too important to ignore.
This all began on the 20th of August 2014, when Kim Hyun-joong’s girlfriend, a woman formerly known only as ‘A’ but now called Miss Choi, filed a lawsuit against him. Her claim was that over a period of two months, he had repeatedly beaten her, with the medical documents she gave as evidence showing she had severe bruising and broken ribs as a result.
Kim Hyun-joong’s management, Keyeast Entertainment, eventually claimed that the injuries were either a result of “rough play” between the two or a fight where they were both attacking each other (because a petite woman and a muscular male idol are definitely equally matched in physical strength). They even went on to make the disgusting claim that broken ribs aren’t that painful, so there’s no need to overreact about the seriousness of her injuries.
Furthermore, Kim Hyun-joong was seen performing at concerts and appearing at public events after the alleged fight was said to have occurred, and was not seen with any injuries on his body. This strongly suggests that in reality, it was certainly not an evenly-matched fight, if at all.
The reactions from the public to this was mixed. Some reacted in anger and horror at the news, fiercely asking for the truth to come out. Unfortunately, many of Kim Hyun-joong’s young fans seemed delusional in their unwavering support of him, instead bombarding Miss Choi with malicious, personal attacks.
Equally terrible was the fact that the Seoul Police Department did not treat the case with any urgency at all, instead arranging his date for questioning so that it conveniently worked with his touring schedule. After being questioned by the police, Kim Hyun-joong made both a public apology and private apology to Miss Choi, following which she dropped the charges.
To understand everything that’s been happening in this case so far, as well as the recent developments that are discussed later in this piece, we need to get an insight into how intimate partner violence works. Walker‘s theory on the cycle of abuse demonstrates the typical stages that a domestic violence victim goes through, and the correlations between this and Miss Choi’s case are startling.
Clearly, from the initial accusations against Kim Hyun-joong, we know that Miss Choi has well and truly experienced the yellow and red stages. From the most recent revelations in this case, it also seems like for a period of time, Kim Hyun-joong had successfully lulled Miss Choi back into the green stage, with countless apologies and sweet entreaties.
Text messages between the pair that Dispatch released shortly after the initial accusations clearly demonstrates Kim Hyun-joong trying to manipulate Miss Choi back into the green stage. One such text goes as follows:
Miss Choi: I have bruises all over my body. It hurts. I have no reason to be beaten.
Kim: I don’t know why I did this to you as I knew that I would be sorry the next day. I am sorry that you were bruised and hurt. Hope you get better soon. I am really sorry.
This demonstrates the typical mentality of an abuser, who tries to brush off the seriousness of their abuse by making it seem as if they never meant to hurt their lover, and that everything would be okay again soon. Recently, concerns about Miss Choi being trapped in the cycle of abuse and being dragged into the green zone arose again when rumours came out that the pair were expecting a child and planning to get married. It seemed that Kim Hyun-joong had managed to sweet-talk his way back into Miss Choi’s life, when they briefly reconciled and conceived their child.
Unfortunately, this is a scenario that many domestic violence victims experience. Abusers are manipulative and cunning, and are able to demean and reduce their victim’s self-esteem to ensure that they will never leave them. Many who have suffered at the hands of their intimate partner believe that they don’t deserve any better, and hence stay with their partner. Abusers are also great pretenders: they make endless promises and reassurances to the victim to trick them into thinking that they really will change their ways.
In other cases, fear of retribution is a serious concern for victims if they leave their abusive relationship. Additionally, it is incredibly common for women to stay with an abusive partner due to wanting to provide stability for their children. Many women rationalise that they will be able to bear the brunt of the abuse, as long as it’s not directed at their children.
Often, victims feel they have nowhere else to go, except back to their abuser. Many critics of Miss Choi argued that she should have left Kim Hyun-joong if he was abusing her, and the fact that she stayed with him for a while proves that she was lying about the abuse. Unfortunately, escaping from an abusive situation is not simply a matter of happily breaking up with your partner and moving on. There are complicated layers of manipulation, psychology and fear tactics that will often trap a victim in an abusive relationship.
The case has become even more complicated now that they seem to be expecting a child together. Entertainment Relay recently backed up Miss Choi’s claims about her pregnancy by providing supporting documents, so it seems extremely likely that she really is pregnant.
This news makes it that much more likely for her to return to her abusive partner. South Korea is not open to the idea of single mothers, and prides itself on their extremely low out-of-wedlock birth rate of 2.1% (compared to Ireland’s rate of 64.1%). When premarital pregnancies do happen, it is under the assumption that the couple will eventually get married and the man has only slept with the woman with the understanding that he will “take responsibility for her.”
When this is not the case, however, things become very difficult. The social stigma associated with raising a child as a single mother would mean a horde of obstacles for both the mother and child in their lives.
Miss Choi’s pregnancy has further complicated the case between the two, with Choi claiming she has given adequate proof of her pregnancy, but Kim Hyun-joong’s side claiming that more tests need to be undertaken. His parents recently gave a ridiculously convoluted interview with The Fact, demonstrating a disgustingly flippant attitude to the whole situation. They attempted to present themselves as the victim, saying that what Miss Choi has put them through is comparable to murder. Their involvement in the case also relates back to one of the other key behaviours of an abuser, where they “enlist family support” to further manipulate the victim.
Miss Choi is not just being pressured by Kim Hyun-joong’s parents, but has also been threatened by Kim Hyun-joong himself. Dispatch and SBS‘s One Night of TV Entertainment recently released text messages that were allegedly sent between Kim Hyun-joong and Miss Choi.
In the messages, Kim seems to accept that the child is his, telling Miss Choi to look after it while he completes his military service and excitedly asking for ultrasound pictures. This seems to indicate that he is not in denial about the child being his, but instead, it is a matter of his company trying to protect his image. He also tries to reconcile with her again, telling her that “I still miss you. I think I might be crazy. Is this the end? I’m not ready yet. I want to meet and say all that I want to and do the things I never could for you, if this really is the end.” Furthermore, he tells her that “I’ll make you happy after we get married.”
Here, he is once again trying to pull Miss Choi into the green stage again, trying to sound like a good father-to-be. The fact that he tells her he’ll make her happy after they get married is another case of a manipulative tactic. Here, he is setting conditions that need to be met before he’s willing to behave like a decent human being.
The fact that the couple reconciled briefly after Miss Choi had filed a lawsuit against him, where they ended up conceiving a child, shows how she was once again pulled in by her abuser’s sweet and promising words. Kim Hyun-joong had created a false sense of security, making her feel comfortable to return to him.
However, the text messages also demonstrate Kim Hyun-joong’s true abusive nature, as his messages suddenly take a menacing turn when he tells her that “If you cheat while I’m not here, I’ll kill you.”[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dpu_Pegm7kc]
Assuming these texts are legitimate, it paints an awful picture of what Miss Choi and many other victims go through. Over 70% of intimate partner murders happen after the woman has left the relationship, and the increased threat of violence forces many women to remain with their partners. Additionally, Kim Hyun-joong’s family is clearly putting an incredible amount of burden on Miss Choi, emotionally manipulating her into marrying their son in order to save his reputation.
Thankfully, it seems that after being sucked into the green and yellow stages several times by Kim Hyun-joong, Miss Choi recently announced that she will never return to him. This has been an incredibly strong decision on Miss Choi’s part, as it will be undeniably difficult for her to raise a child alone.
Doing so not only provides a safer life for her child and herself, but also proves wrong the critics who claimed that Miss Choi must have been lying about the abuse if she reconciled with him and even became pregnant with his child. When looking at the psychological factors in play, it’s clear that Miss Choi was yet another victim stuck in the cycle of abuse, who Kim Hyun-joong managed to briefly deceive again. Miss Choi has mustered great strength and decided that she will rebuild her own life independently, and stay away from Kim Hyun-joong in order to protect her child.
Although it does not look like Kim Hyun-joong will be charged for his crimes or even have a serious dent in his career, Miss Choi can at least gain some sort of satisfaction in knowing that he could not crush her. She has gone from the victim to the survivor, deciding to raise a child alone instead of with him.
The details of the case are still being worked out, with the two sides still quarelling over who bears responsibility for the child, and who owes what to whom. Additionally, many details have not yet been confirmed, so all reporting on the matter needs to be taken with a grain of salt. What we can be relieved about thus far, at least, is that Miss Choi is on the way to rebuilding her life, and her child has a greater chance of a happy and healthy future.
This case has highlighted the dynamics between abuser and victim, where the victim struggles not to return to their abuser. For those who would like to learn more about abusive relationships, this resource may help in understanding the cycle and manifestations of abuse, as well as getting help.
(YouTube, Korea Times, Teens Experiencing Abusive Relationships, Time, The Fact, OECD Family Database, The Grand Narrative, Dispatch, Naver TV, Newsen, Helpguide.org, Images via Dispatch, Keyeast Entertainment, Osen, T Group Holding, imgur)