More than 50 women’s rights organizations around the country have mobilized to support a female prosecutor who spoke out about her experience with sexual assault.
Public Prosecutor Seo Ji-hyeon accused a former senior justice ministry official Ahn Tae-geun of groping her in front of other officials at a funeral, back in 2010.
Seo said she suffered from a guilty conscience despite being the victim, and it took her eight years to be free from this mindset. She took to television to let all victims know that it is not their fault.
The alleged harasser, Ahn, was expelled from the Justice Ministry in June 2017 after he was caught giving money to his subordinates at a private dinner.
He claims that he cannot remember his actions as he was drunk at the time and that he has since become a believer and repented his sins.
“I want to tell him that he should really ask for forgiveness from the victims.
— Public Prosecutor Seo Ji-hyeon
Apparently, none of the officials present stepped in to stop the harassment and one even went so far as to cover up the incident. After a supposed “disciplinary warning” she was transferred to a regional office outside of Seoul in 2015 by Choi Gyo-il who is now a Korean lawmaker.
A large movement to support Seo has risen in South Korea as presidential petitions were signed, demonstrations were held, press conferences were opened, and political parties applauded Seo’s bravery.
“We send our respect to Prosecutor Seo for her courageous act. Her revelation signals the historical start of the #MeToo movement in South Korea”.
— People’s Party spokesperson
The Justice Ministry declared that they will conduct an investigation into Seo’s case. Prosecutor-General Moon Moo-il stated he would do “everything [he] could to make sure the perpetrators are punished for their misdeeds.”
President Moon himself has responded to the horrifying story coming out of the prosecutor’s office.
“You must take definite steps to create a culture in which such incidents do not occur…Creating an environment in which victims can speak up without fear is particularly important.”
— President Moon
Nine women lawmakers from the Democratic Party also held a press conference at the National Assembly to announce their support for Seo Ji-hyeon and pledged to make sure women can testify without fear.
Seo Ji-hyeon is not the first to reveal her #MeToo story, but hers may be the most high-profile case as it involves several government officials.
“It is deplorable that such criminal cases occurred inside the prosecution, where they uphold the values of justice and aim to protect the rights of victims.”
— The Korean Women Law Association
South Korean feminists have been exposing sexual violence in their country since October 2016, with the hashtag #sexual_abuse_in_00 where the “00” is replaced with the industry in which the victim experienced sexual violence. The women of the literary world and art world most notably spoke out about the abuse they had suffered.
In fact, the hashtag inspired a crowdfunded book called “With no References”, filled with works of women in the literary world.
The Korean Medical Women’s Association has also taken the initiative to prevent sexual abuse in their industry and provide proper support to victims as well.
They plan to publish a universal sexual violence response manual and seek to have it included in the Korean Medical Association’s policy.
Several women from the celebrity world have also spoken up about sexual assault in their industry. At the 2017 KBS Drama Awards, actress Jung Ryeo Won accepted her Best Actress prize for a role as a prosecutor in the sexual violence unit and spoke up about sexual assault as well.
“Sexual violence is everywhere, just like the common cold, but perpetrators often go undetected… We aspire to create a world where victims can speak up.”
— Jung Ryeo Won
This is only a small sample of the women who have courageously stood up and condemned sexual assault in the workplace.
Although it may not be the first movement, the #MeToo movement has certainly brought positivity and courage to many South Korean women.