Korea to toughen penalties for sexual harassment at work

By Claire Lee
  • Published : Jun 25, 2014 - 21:23
  • Updated : Jun 25, 2014 - 21:23
Public workers who try to hide sexual harassment cases at work will now face stiffer penalties, as the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, not their immediate superior, will have the authority to take disciplinary action, starting next month.

All employees who work for the 16,629 state-run institutions nationwide, such as education offices, schools and regional governments, are also required to take gender-equality education, at least once a year. The education program is divided into four parts: sexual harassment, domestic violence, sexual violence and prostitution.

“Those who work for the public sector must have a sense of responsibility,” said Yang Cheol-soo from the Gender Ministry. “We are educating them to be gender-sensitive and how to help if they happen to meet (illegal) sex workers who are in need of any kind of support.”

Should a public worker hide a sexual harassment case at work and be discovered, the Gender Ministry will have the authority to contact his or her superior and penalize them.

“Once those who hid a case, including the attacker, receive a penalty for their actions, it should be reported to the Gender Equality Ministry,” said an official from the ministry. “This way, we are trying to prevent a situation where the victim, instead of the attacker, quits his or her studies or job.”

The ministry also encourages the nation’s private companies to educate their workers on sexual harassment.

According to the Korean Institution for Gender Equality and Education, 65.8 percent of sexual harassment cases in South Korea involve a work superior attacking a person in a relatively vulnerable position. Many cases of sexual harassment at the workplace are unreported because victims are afraid that it will affect their job, the organization said.

Examples of sexual harassment include questions and discussions about a person’s sex life; commenting on someone’s physical attractiveness or unattractiveness; telling a women she belongs at home; eyeing someone in a suggestive way and writing sexually suggestive letters or notes.

By Claire Lee (