Seoul (AFP) - The brutal murder of a woman in Seoul's upmarket Gangnam district has triggered a public outcry and a debate over what some see as a growing streak of violent misogyny in South Korea.
Hundreds attended a candlelight vigil overnight Thursday in front of Gangnam subway station for the 23-year-old who was stabbed to death by a stranger the previous night in a nearby public bathroom.
Police said the 34-year-old man, identified only by his surname Kim, had told them he carried out the attack because he felt "belittled by women."
Although they also noted the suspect had been diagnosed with acute schizophrenia, the remark went viral with a tweet that said society should respond to hate crimes against women and not let the incident "be forgotten".
The subway station exit has since been turned into a mini shrine by thousands of mostly young South Koreans leaving piles of flowers and covering its outer walls with messages written on post-it notes.
"In our next life, let's meet in a world where we can be happy even as a woman," read one.
"I'm sorry. I survived once again in this hellish world just because I'm a man," said another.
- Political concern -
High-profile politicians, including Seoul Mayor Park Won-Soon, have visited the site to pay their condolences.
"I'll try to heal the world into a place where there will be no more hate crimes," Park said on his official Twitter feed.
The murder and public reaction have received wide media coverage, with the mass circulation JoongAng Daily running an editorial Friday titled "Women at Risk."
While noting the murder may have been a random act by a mentally unstable young man, the newspaper said it had lifted the lid on simmering anger and concern over gender violence.
"The government must study crimes against women and come up with realistic measures so that women won't have to be fearful for their safety," the editorial said.
South Korea generally has a low violent crime rate, but cases of sexual assault have increased in recent years and women's groups argue that entrenched gender discrimination -- rooted in a strong Confucian tradition -- is a prime cause.
Abusive Korean men, they say, don't even see their actions as criminal, while women are extremely wary of being victimised again if they report assault.
- 'Growing' violence -
"There is growing violence and hatred against women and other minority groups in our society," the Korean Women's Association United said in a statement after the murder.
Another rights group Womenlink said the Gangnam murder was a "tragic case that showed how the discrimination against women can lead to an extreme crime".
Activist groups also point to a growth in online Korean forums dominated by unmoderated, misogynist comments, including repeated threats of violence against women.
In 2013, President Park Geun-Hye directed the police to focus on combating four "social evils" -- the first two being sexual violence and domestic violence.
Experts say a sharp rise in youth unemployment and growing income disparities in a highly-competitive and status-conscious society have stoked feelings of inadequacy and created new tensions.
Chun Sang-Chin, a professor of Sociology at Sogang University in Seoul, said South Korea was an "extremely patriarchal" society whose rules and values had never really been challenged before.
"Now, people's lives have become quite unstable and insecure," Chun told AFP.
"People feel weak... and they are turning to those that are weaker to let out their anger. In such cases, the usual targets are women or ethnic minority groups," he added.