By Park Si-soo
Some students have taken graduation rituals to the extremes, tearing school uniforms and hurling eggs and flour at each other. They call them initiation ceremonies to prepare them for the tougher world of adults.
This year, the rituals are becoming particularly brutal and organized so much so that some resemble scenes directly taken out of gangster movies. Police and prosecutors are now launching investigations to crack down on those masterminding the ceremonies disguising acts of violence. Key offenders may face prison terms.
Education and psychology experts called them acts to vent stress and frustration they have accumulated studying for better scores with little freedom during their school years.
Contributing to their frustration is the atmosphere that gives little attention to those left out of the race for good universities, they say.
The Ilsan Police Department in Gyeonggi Province said Tuesday it would question eight high school students over whether they forced some 15 senior middle school students to take off their clothes and assaulted them at an isolated location right after their graduation ceremony last Thursday.
The investigations came after some 40 photos displaying naked male and female middle school graduates began spreading on major portals last Saturday. One of the pictures showed naked male and female graduates making a human pyramid a la Abu Ghraib with their bodies showered with flour and eggs. Other photos showed some students in certain high school uniforms appearing to enjoy the scenes.
Police said some victims testified that the high school students in the photos texted them to gather in an empty lot near their school after the graduation ceremony and forced them to take off their clothes and perform shameful acrobatic stunts.
"Many of the victims were afraid of facing retaliation, if they talked to parents or police," said a police officer familiar with the case.
This is not the only case of its kind this year.
Early this month, police arrested a group of graduating middle school students in southwestern Seoul for tearing school uniform off a female student and showering her with tomato ketchup at an empty spot near their school.
On the same day, a group of high school students in Jeju Island took seven graduating middles school students to a sea port. They forced the younger students to take off their uniforms and then pushed them into the water, where the temperature was nearly zero degrees. A scuba diver in their vicinity pulled them out of the water and reported it to police.
On Feb. 10, police stopped a group of graduating middle school students for marching on a main street half-naked.
Professor Lee Yung-hyeock at the National Police University said, "It was something that existed at high schools in the past. But it seems that such a practice extended its realm to middle school students thanks to the Internet and other up-to-date communication tools."
Lee said such violent acts at graduation ceremonies are not something new.
"Korean citizens have released stress in somewhat aggressive ways. This is in line with the tradition. But problems occur when the degree of the behavior becomes brutal and violent," he said.