Former South Chungcheong Province Gov. An Hee-jung on Monday underwent questioning by prosecutors over allegations of sexual violence against his aides. On Sunday, Lee Yoon-taek, a famous director and playwright, was grilled by police for a second straight day over allegations he habitually committed sexual misconduct against 16 people, including actresses.
The public attention given to the cases, and the seemingly never-ending news stories about similar misdeeds by those in power, show that the #MeToo movement is spreading like wildfire through Korean society.
Indeed, no sector is to be spared from the fast-spreading movement, touched off belatedly in Korea by a female prosecutor who accused her superiors of sexually harassing her. The movement first hit people in arts and culture, including writers, actors and directors, then spread to priests, politicians and university professors.
The brightest aspect of the movement is that it is bringing to justice bad guys who exploited their power and positions to commit sexual violence against those around them.
Harsh punishment in cases that have come to the fore so far would not only establish the rule of law and principles of justice, but also raise public awareness of dangers of sexual violence prevalent in society.
It is also good that the recent developments will certainly add one’s sexual behavior and perception of gender equality to the ethical qualifications that are required of people in higher positions.
One more positive aspect of the movement is that it encourages people in relatively weak positions -- be they secretaries, part-time workers, students or subcontractors -- to speak out against what they have had to keep silent about in the past.
All these positive impacts, however, should not assure you that the movement that has been sweeping across Korean society for about two months is unaccompanied by any negative developments.
The utmost concern is that some of those who spoke out about their cases are encountering “secondary damage.” The phenomenon is all the more serious here in Korea because of the vibrant internet and social media platforms.
The most common cases of secondary damage are revelations of the accusers’ private information. Some also raise suspicions about the motives of the accusers’ decision to speak out, then spread rumors and slander against them.
Politicization is another dark aspect of the Korean #MeToo movement. Two prominent politicians -- An, a potential presidential candidate, and former presidential spokesman Park Soo-hyun, who wanted to succeed An as South Chungcheong Province governor in the June 13 local elections -- have already seen their political careers ruptured in connection with the movement. An, who resigned as governor, faces arrest over rape charges, and Park withdrew from the gubernatorial race after allegations of extramarital affairs hit his campaign.
There are more cases of politicians embroiled in #MeToo allegations: Min Byung-doo, a ruling party lawmaker quit over a sexual harassment allegation, while Chung Bong-ju, a former ruling party lawmaker running for Seoul mayor, is struggling to fight allegations of past misconduct.
Ironically, so far most of the high-profile political cases regarding the #MeToo movement have involved progressive politicians from the ruling party.
Perhaps emboldened by the cases, prominent leftist activist and commentator Kim Eo-jun raised a conspiracy theory that the movement could degenerate into one that attacks the government of President Moon Jae-in and liberal figures. No wonder Kim faced criticism even from members of the ruling party.
One of the ugliest scenes of politicizing the #MeToo movement is being played out by the three ruling party contenders for the governorship of Gyeonggi Province: Two lesser known candidates are demanding leading candidate and former Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung accept their demand for “#MeToo vetting.”
The two are apparently trying to damage Lee’s campaign by taking advantage of rumors surrounding Lee’s private life. Actions like this only distort the legitimacy of a movement that is certain to bring about many positive changes to Korean society.