A week ago, Airdre Mattner mustered up the courage to come forward as a rape victim to the media in hopes of highlighting how Korea’s justice system had failed to protect her and mishandled her case.
Mattner said that she was drugged, abducted and raped in late September in Seoul.
She said that while the sexual assault haunted her, the botched investigation into her case by police further broke her down.
After the story surfaced and consequent public attention was paid to the incident, the police station in charge of the investigation decided to post an open letter addressed to Mattner on Facebook on April 1, defending their position.
Amid allegations that the police had not properly investigated the crime, the Yongsan Police Station revealed details of the probe and refuted the victim’s statements in both Korean and English in the public letter.
An open letter posted by police on Facebook (Facebook)
“You are claiming that (the) police questioned contemptuously while questioning. The police recorded all of the process and has kept the record. We confirmed that there was no insulting question,” a part of the post read.
The police also said that they had no way to contact the victim apart from through the Australian Embassy because she had left the country and there were language barriers. They notified her of the investigation process, they claimed.
The police even added the link to the Facebook page on Mattner’s campaign on the GoFundMe site. She has shared her story about sexual assault and raised funds to pursue justice in England through the campaign.
“It made me feel shocked, unsafe and upset. They tried to harass me by engaging me in the public conversation on Facebook, though they knew formal channels to contact me regarding any information about me or my investigation,” Mattner told The Korea Herald in a phone interview.
In earlier emails exchanged between Mattner and the Korean police, the police admitted that they had the direct email address to reach the victim.
According to Mattner, she had emailed the police initially through an email address provided to her, attaching photos of the suspected rapist. However, all the police did was acknowledge the email and then cease communication, she said.
Mattner said she had learned about the details of the investigation results regarding her DNA evidence only after the police responded to media about her case and posted the message on Facebook, all without her consent.
“They could have directly emailed me or contacted the embassy, but they chose to harass me publicly on Facebook,” she said. “And they had yet to provide evidence supporting any of their claims about the probe.”
The post on Facebook prompted outrage on the Internet, with many online commenters condemning the police for failing to protect the victim and publicly humiliating her in public to “save face.”
A comment written by a Facebook user Seolhee Park read: “The Yongsan police, you should be ashamed of yourselves to reveal all the details of the victim this way and defending yourselves by refuting the victim’s claims to save your reputation. It is a humiliation to show this badly translated police statement to foreigners. What police should do is to catch the suspect.”
The Korea Herald learned that comments written by 12 different people had disappeared from the page. Police admitted to “hiding” the messages.
“The comments focused on how police were wrong about posting an open letter, but what we wanted to say to the public was that her claims were different from the truth,” another police officer, in charge of the Facebook page, told The Korea Herald. “We hid some of the messages from being shown, because we were worried that they were missing the point.”
One of the comments -- which was captured via screenshot before it disappeared from the Facebook page -- by user Dennis KH Kim read: “I think that it is appropriate to delete this post which includes the victim’s personal information and investigation process as it is an ongoing case.”
Cho Ki-woong, a police officer in charge of crimes related to women and juveniles at the Yongsan Police Station, said that they had felt obligated to publicly defend themselves against the “defamatory action.”
“Given the victim’s claims in the media, it may seem that police mishandled the case. That’s why we posted the letter to straighten the facts,” Cho told The Korea Herald. “The victim first revealed her own story on her GoFundMe page. We were just refuting her claims that police’s response to the case were not sufficient. What she claims was completely different from what was true.”
Cho said the police had never released any information about the probe that the victim had not been aware of. “There must have some miscommunication in the process. We certainly informed that the DNA was collected and CCTV footage was obtained to the victim through the Australian Embassy.”
The police’s decision to take her story public on Facebook might neither be legitimate nor appropriate, experts and lawyers pointed out.
“This is a typical form of secondary damage facing rape victims. It is shocking that police handled the case this way by revealing the victim’s case in public without her consent,” said Kim Bo-hwa, a senior researcher from the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center. “This kind of action by police could cause additional damage to the victim’s distress.”
“Investigators and judges have a duty to keep victims’ secrets. Posting an open letter including investigation results is a violation of rights,” she said, citing the act on the punishment of sexual crimes and protection of victims enforced in 1994.
The law stipulates that victims should not be disadvantaged, and public officials should not reveal victim’s private secrets and personal information learned while performing duties, among other points.
Choi Hee-jin, head of the counseling center for Korea Women’s Hot Line, took issue with low awareness on how to deal with victims of sexual crimes in society.
“In Korea, there have been many victims suffering from insensitivity among investigators. The investigators, who do not specialize in sex crimes, tend to suspect the validity of victims’ testimonies and require them to prove their suffering during the investigation process,” she told The Korea Herald. “But such actions can further traumatize the victims.”
“There is also a social atmosphere blaming victims for sexual crimes. When victims are turned down by the nation’s justice system, who else can help them?” she posed. “We have a good legal system and institutions to protect victims, but they are not properly implemented.”
Lawyer Goh Ji-woon questioned the legitimacy of the police’s decision to reveal personal information via social media, though her story was already public on the GoFundMe campaign page.
“The victim can file a lawsuit to seek compensation from the state for failing to properly investigate the case and collect evidence,” she said. “It does not seem to be legitimate for authorities to publish a public letter on social media against the victim.”
By Ock Hyun-ju (email@example.com