It’s the midway point of the baseball season and, suddenly, the Pittsburgh Pirates are looking pretty good. They have won eight of their last ten ballgames heading into the All-Star break. The bullpen is on point, the team is shifting towards its high-upside youth, and after the worst June in years there might at least be some buzz around the team through the rest of the summer. All of these great things are happening. But I just don’t care.
That’s because Jung-ho Kang allegedly drugged and raped a woman in Chicago last month. Acknowledging how irrelevant my personal feelings are in this situation, the allegations make me very uncomfortable. Kang is a person whom I’ve interacted with; a person that I liked and respected. Not that I know him especially well, we’ve only spoken in a professional capacity (through a translator nonetheless), but it’s strange to have interacted with a person who could have committed such a heinous act.
Here are the details that we know: Last month while the Pirates were in Chicago, Kang met a 23-year old woman on Bumble, a dating app, and met her in his hotel room at around 10:00 PM. The victim stated that Kang gave her a drink and, upon drinking it, she immediately lost consciousness. She reportedly woke up in a car on her way home with only vague recollections of Kang sexually abusing her. The woman had a rape kit done two days later and went to the police 10 days later.
“We have been made aware of the allegation that has been made against Jung-ho Kang,” Pirates President Frank Coonelly said in an official statement. “We take allegations of this type extremely seriously.”
Currently, there has not been a police report published. Beyond Coonelly’s statement, Kang and the Pirates have been mum as well. But while it’s irresponsible to jump to the conclusion that Kang is guilty, it’s also important to remember that [EDIT: in the court of public opinion] the burden of proof lies on his shoulders rather than on the victim’s.
For some reason, the public tends to twist logic to make excuses whenever athletes screw up. It’s a healthy practice to never read the comment sections on, well, pretty much any article. But it’s especially true when dealing with issues of sexual abuse and even more true when the abuser is a famous person.
“The entire group will fall behind the accused and deny an offense has been committed,” Dr. Claire Walsh, director of the University of Florida’s sexual assault recovery program, told the New York Times in 1990. “The entire community associated with this group will come to its defense.”
Here are a handful of the comments from the Post-Gazette’s Facebook post of the Kang article that illustrate that point:
Even if this woman went to Kang’s hotel room with the intentions of having consensual sex with him, that doesn’t mean she can be drugged and raped without the rapist facing any repercussions. And it’s remarkable how many people are convinced that so many women harbor the sociopathic urge to extort men by pretending to be raped. The FBI Uniform Crime Report in 1996 and the United States Department of Justice in 1997 stated that only eight percent of rape accusations in the United States were regarded as false. So while that situation isn’t impossible, it should be far from the first conclusion one jumps to when forming an opinion on a subject such as this.
No, the first thing that one should do when a woman says she has been sexually abused is to believe her. I’ll say that a few more times: Believe women. Believe women. Believe. Women. In the court system, people are innocent until proven guilty. The court of public opinion doesn’t work like that and it is dangerous to immediately assume that the victim is a liar. When a woman steps forward, especially to accuse a rich, famous person of rape, it takes a lot of guts and she deserves respect rather than ridicule.
Very little is known about the victim in this case, yet people seem very comfortable assuming that she is a conniving, promiscuous gold digger. Meanwhile, we know quite a bit about Jung-ho Kang. He is a professional athlete, held upon a high pedestal in America as well as his home country of South Korea. His multinational appeal will likely earn him the benefit of the doubt, even though it should probably register the opposite reaction.
In 1996, Peggy Sanday, an emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, found that sexual assaults are more prevalent in some societies than others; tribal societies that emphasize interpersonal violence, male dominance, and sexual separation are more likely to rape. Kang fits into that two of those tribes. While baseball is not typically lumped in with more physical sports such as football, hockey, or basketball, the clubhouse is still extremely male dominated. And when a man has the unquestioned support of an entire community, like many athletes in Pittsburgh do, it’s easy for that man to act without considering the consequences.
Also, South Korea has a notable rape problem. The World Economic Forum ranks South Korea 117 out of 142 countries for gender equality, worst among developed nations. While there are far fewer violent crimes in South Korea than there are in America, nearly 90 percent of the victims who reported violent crimes were women. The South Korean police and court system are largely incompetent when handling these situations, quick to deflect blame from offenders toward victims and willing to bend over backwards to acquit men of violence charges. Rape victims have been called “gold diggers” by authorities and are generally discouraged from speaking out.
Certainly, this is not to say that most male athletes or South Koreans are inclined toward abusing women. That’s untrue. There is no reason why Kang’s actions should paper over the good that the Pirates do for the community. Post-Gazette columnist Gene Collier recalled the Pirates partnering with the YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh for a domestic violence awareness event and the “Pitch For Hope” Women’s Baseball Clinic at PNC Park, which benefitted Glimmer of Hope, a local organization funding the only under-40 breast cancer study in the country. As sports fans, we’re all just rooting for laundry. But we should take solace in knowing that the majority of the people wearing those Pirates uniforms are good people who are worthy of our support.
But rape is a cultural phenomenon, one that both organized sports and the Republic of South Korea apparently accommodate. The court of public opinion should not give Kang the benefit of the doubt just because he is an athlete. We, as a society, should not assume a woman is lying just because she accused a person who happens to have a lot of money. The details of this case will roll out over time, but for the moment it is important to realize that a victim-blaming rape culture exists and will continue to permeate until we acknowledge that it’s a problem.