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Female prosecutor calls for sexual harassment prevention

Top prosecution to investigate alleged sexual harassment

The female prosecutor who spoke up about sexual harassment within the prosecution has asked the public to shift its attention and efforts to measures to resolve the pervasive mistreatment of women in society, rather than focusing on her experience.

“Please look at why the organization (the prosecution) did not listen to a lone victim, instead of what happened to me at the funeral,” Seo Ji-hyun, a public prosecutor at the Tongyeong branch of the Changwon District Prosecutors’ Office, said in a statement released by her lawyer Wednesday. Seo earlier revealed that a sexual harassment incident had occurred at a funeral in 2010.

“As a prosecutor of South Korea, I knew more than any others about the law. But I was not protected by the system -- or could not ask for protection, to be exact,” she said, referring to the difficulties victims face in opening up about their experiences.

In the statement, she also expressed her wish that society would not hold prejudices against the victims and toward sexual assault cases.

She has appointed Kim Jae-ryun, her law school classmate, as her lawyer.

Seo said during a televised news interview Monday that Ahn Tae-geun, who was a senior Justice Ministry official at the time, sexually harassed her at a funeral in 2010 in front of many other prosecutors and ministry officials. 
Ahn Tae-guen, a former chief of the policy planning department at the Ministry of Justice (Yonhap)
Ahn Tae-guen, a former chief of the policy planning department at the Ministry of Justice (Yonhap)

In a separate post on the prosecution’s intranet board, she gave accounts of several other incidents of harassment and mistreatment by male colleagues.

She also said she was unfairly transferred to the Tongyeong branch in 2015 from Seoul Northern District Prosecutor’s Office after the story of the incident in 2010 spread.

Her revelation sparked public outrage and prompted the prosecution to open an investigation.

The Supreme Prosecutor’s Office announced Wednesday that it would form a special team to look into Seo’s harassment claim.

The special investigation team will examine the harassment case and aide the victims, said Joo Young-hwan, the spokesman for the prosecution, in a press briefing.

Chief Prosecutor Cho Hee-jin of the Seoul Eastern Prosecutor’s Office will lead the team, which will also include experts on women’s policies and crimes against women.

On Tuesday, President Moon Jae-in ordered his administration to make efforts to create a society free of such criminal acts.

“If (Seo’s) claim is true, it shows that sexual harassment is widespread inside the prosecution but that victims have been keeping it to themselves out of fear of secondary damage,” he said at a workshop with ministers Tuesday.

“It is important that we prevent further occurrence of such sexual crimes and also create a society where victims can freely make reports on misdeeds.

Floor Leader Rep. Woo Won-shik of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea also mentioned Seo’s revelation during a speech at a plenary session at the National Assembly on Wednesday.

“We support all women who fight against injustice and discrimination,” he said at the end of his speech, holding up a white rose, a symbol of support for the global #MeToo movement that aims to fight sexual misbehavior.

On Tuesday, nine female lawmakers, including Nam In-soon who heads the parliamentary gender and family committee, released a statement encouraging Seo and the movement against sexual harassment.

They demanded a thorough investigation and also called for the prevention of secondary damage to the victims.

The center-left opposition People’s Party and center-right Bareun Party also hailed Seo for helping to bring the global movement against sexual harassment, called #MeToo, to Korea.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party also said it would make efforts for a system to prevent sexual crimes. But it did not reveal its position on its lawmaker Rep. Choi Gyo-il who is accused of concealing Seo’s case when he was the ministry’s criminal bureau chief.

By Jo He-rim (