Former South Chungcheong Provincial Gov. An Hee-jung, who pleaded not guilty to all of the sexual assault charges against him, will receive his sentence Tuesday, some five months after his former secretary made a highly public rape accusation in March.
Last month, prosecutors requested four years in prison for An, who has been charged with five counts of indecent act by compulsion, four counts of sexual abuse by occupational authority, and one count of indecent acts through abuse of occupational authority. An has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges, saying that his relationship with his ex-secretary was “romantic” and consensual.
Women’s rights activists and legal experts say the upcoming verdict is a significant one to watch, given that not many suspects of sexual abuse by occupational authority have been found guilty -- unless the victims were children or individuals with severe physical or mental disabilities. If An is found guilty, experts say, it will set a precedent -- a lack of physical resistance does not always indicate consensual sex, especially in cases of power harassment at workplaces.
Former South Chungcheong Provincial Gov. An Hee-jung leaves the Seoul Western District Court after attending a trial on July 17. (Yonhap)
An’s accuser, Kim Ji-eun, first made the claims that led to the charges on live TV on March 5, saying that she was raped by An four times while working as his secretary from 2017 to February this year.
She said she was raped by An in Switzerland and Russia, among other places, while they were on business trips together.
While working for An, Kim said, it had virtually been impossible to reject his advances due to the power imbalance between the two, as An was a powerful politician and her superior at work.
“An would always tell me, ‘Don’t share your opinions, don’t share your thoughts. Live as if you were my shadow.’” Kim said during the TV interview in March. “I was never able to question him on anything. I always had to obey him.”
In response to her accusations, An’s lawyer has been stressing that unlike “people with disabilities and children,” Kim is a “highly educated woman who is both intelligent and independent,” and therefore it would have been impossible for any work superior to abuse their authority to sexually exploit her.
Women’s rights activists criticized the comments, claiming they were disrespectful to both Kim and survivors of childhood sexual abuse, women with disabilities and those with less education.
A number of An’s former aides, as well as his wife, have testified in favor of An, saying they have never witnessed him abusing his power at work. An’s wife, Min Joo-won, testified she had sensed that Kim had formed romantic feelings for her husband.
An’s charges are punishable by up to 10 years in prison or a fine of 15 million won ($13,287).
By Claire Lee (email@example.com