Tennis Coach Convicted Of Rape

South Korean tennis athlete Kim Eun-Hee could not hold back tears. Justice had finally been served after her coach was convicted of rape with injury and sentenced to ten years in prison.

She had held this secret for too many years.

Unchecked coaches in training camps

When one thinks of South Korean sports, the image of graceful and beautiful skaters like Olympic champion Kim Yuna comes to mind.

Under the shimmer and glory, however, a dark secret lurks.

To achieve the gold and glory, South Korea runs training camps (like the ones in China) to train young girls like Kim Eun-Hee to peak performance. This has achieved great results for South Korean sports.

The young trainees leave their homes at a young age (as young as eight years old) to live only with their peers; they undergo the same training and spend almost all their time with their coaches.

Coaches dictate every detail of their lives—when they sleep, what to eat and when to exercise. Such unchecked power allowed the coach to begin his abuse—Kim was only 10 and was regularly beaten as “part of her training.”

It took her many years later to realise she was also being raped. All she felt then, was a dread that filled her whenever she was summoned to her coach’s room.

Victims silenced

The rape happened for two years and she was told to keep it a secret.

After some complaints from parents, Kim’s coach was transferred to another school with no further inquiry.

Many abused athletes like Kim choose to continue to keep the abuse under wraps as it could jeopardise their careers—they might be labelled as traitors who brought shame to the sport.

Sometimes, a blind-eye is turned on these coaches’ misbehaviours; the abuse is seen as a small price to pay to achieve medals for the country.

Courage To Expose Her Rape

Two years ago, Kim happened to run into her abuser at a tournament. She was shocked to see he was still coaching tennis players as if nothing was wrong. It was then, she became determined to expose him so as to prevent the abuse of other girls like herself.

“I thought to myself, ‘I’m not going to give him any chance to abuse little girls anymore’,” Kim said.

After she filed a criminal complaint, four of her friends came out to testify against his inappropriate behaviour.

During the trial, Kim felt it was extremely difficult to come face-to-face with her abuser and requested for him to be removed from the room.

Now, at age 27, she finally found the courage to tell her story to international media, waiving all rights to anonymity. She hopes this exposé will stop similar cases of rapes and abuses in the South Korean sports scene.

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Cover image by Jung Yeon-je for AFP