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Ruling party under fire for mishandling sexual harassment claim

Political parties lack measures to deal with sexual misconduct by members

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea came under fire on Tuesday over mishandling a sexual harassment case involving one of its members and trying to cover up the mistake, raising questions on whether political parties are ready to act against sexual misconduct.

On Monday, a local media outlet reported that the ruling party’s headquarters in Busan has not yet taken punitive action against a male party member, who is suspected of harassing a fellow female member in May last year.

The victim had claimed that the male member had touched her on a staircase at a dinner meeting in Busan, three days after the party won the presidential election on May 9 last year. She also said the same member had mistreated her during a debate held in April.

She had requested the expulsion of the said member after disclosing the incident in a party meeting in June, and had also sent a petition to the party’s chairwoman Rep. Choo Mi-ae, but did not receive any response.

The party’s Busan headquarters denied wrongdoing in a statement on Tuesday, saying the victim had refused punishment for the abuser.

Amid the rising number of revelations of sexual misconducts, political parties appear ill-prepared to take actions against the incidents or prevent future incidents.

Yang Hyang-ja, the women‘s rights committee chair of the ruling Democratic Party, told The Korea Herald that the party was not adequately prepared to deal with incidents involving its own members.

“We are seriously concerned about these issues but we still have to talk more about the bylaws and measures inside the party,” she said, refusing to comment further.

Rep. Shin Yong-hyun of the recently merged opposition Bareun Mirae Party said they would also need to make more efforts on specific measures against sexual misconduct.

“We did talk about hiring a counselor to address the difficulties of female party members,” Shin, who was formerly the female committee chief of minor opposition People’s Party said. “It is true political parties have been largely influenced by the male-dominated hierarchy, so many lack such measures.”

Far-left Justice Party recently called for a systematic manual for dealing with sexual misconduct to be drawn up, with the party’s chairwomen Rep. Lee Jeong-mi issuing an apology on Feb. 8, for several sexual misconducts that occurred among the members of her party.

“While we had party regulations on sexual misconduct, it is true there have been limits. It is important that the members really understand that these are criminal acts and we will make efforts on that,” Park In-sook, the party’s women rights committee chair, told The Korea Herald.

Park said Justice Party will come up with an official manual for victims, abusers and the party to properly deal with any kind of sexual harassment.

The party has also come up with a draft of seven rules on gender equality to recommend to its members. They include banning discriminatory language, sexual jokes and touching, apology upon demand, and advises avoiding making remarks about marriage and dating.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party spokesman Jang Je-won, on the other hand, explained that the party is taking strict measures against sexual misconduct through its ethics committee.

“It is a political show how other parties are talking about supporting the #MeToo movement and announcing the creation of a manual,” he told The Korea Herald. He had denounced the ruling party over the sexual incident on Monday.

The conservative party lodged a compensation suit of 500 million won ($470,000) against a local broadcaster on Jan. 7, for reporting on a sexual harassment claim by the party’s former member of the supreme council against the party leader Hong Joon-pyo.

The party said the news outlet MBN seriously damaged Hong’s reputation by deliberately dramatizing the remarks of the former member, Ryu Yeo-hae in its reporting. Ryu has also filed a suit seeking 100 million won in damages against Hong.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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