A Seoul court acquitted former Gov. An Hee-jung on charges of sexual offenses against his secretary, Tuesday.
Former South Chungcheong Province Gov. An was indicted in April on multiple charges, including several accounts of sexual intercourse by abuse of occupational authority against his former secretary, Kim Ji-eun.
Prosecutors had requested a four-year prison term and therapy for An.
While admitting it was fair to see An as a figure with authority, the Seoul Western Court said it was difficult to see the Kim as having been forced to have sex with her.
Noting it was possible to view An as a figure with occupational authority, as he is a famous politician who had been considered a potential presidential candidate, the judge said, “as a governor, he also has the power to influence the victim’s occupational position.”
“But the case occurred between two adults capable of making judgment. And there is not enough evidence to show the defendant has wielded or abused his power or used his authority to pressure the victim.”
The court also saw that it was difficult to think An had abused his authority because Kim had continuously expressed respect for An even after the incidents and did not resist his actions.
“I am sorry. I am ashamed, I will be reborn,” An said as he left the courtroom after the verdict.
An was indicted for four counts of abuse of occupational authority one of indecent acts through abuse of occupational authority and five counts of indecent act by compulsion. The alleged crimes, all against Kim, took place between July 29, 2017 and Feb. 25 this year. He had denied the charges, claiming they were in a “romantic” relationship. An is married with two children.
He stepped down from the governor position in March, days after Kim first made the revelation on a live news program.
Kim, who watched the ruling live at court, left immediately after the verdict without speaking to reporters. In a statement, she expressed regret at the ruling and vowed to fight back.
“I was scared. I was hurt and suffered greatly watching people who tried to trample the truth with silence and lies, and the defendant’s unreflecting attitude,” Kim said. “I am still alive because of the people who supported me. I will not be defeated by this unfair result.
“I will survive, and legally prove his criminal actions. I will fight until sexual misconduct by authority are justly judged. Please support me until the end,” she said.
Kim made the accusation against An on a televised news interview on March 5, saying she was raped by An four times and was sexually molested several times while working for him. She said she could not reject his advances due to the power imbalance between the two -- An being a powerful politician and her superior at work.
People showed mixed reactions to the court’s decision, with some expressing disappointment saying the law had its limits. As observers left the court, some shouted criticism while others showed support for An.
Women’s rights activists criticized the court’s ruling, expressing concerns it may negatively influence the #MeToo movement in society.
“The victim was not saying she lacked the self-determination power, but was saying the perpetrator violated her rights,” said Bae Bog-joo, head of the Sexual Violence Relief Association. “The court accepted the argument of the perpetrator who sexually abuses others using his authority.”
“(Due to this case,) women who are put in similar situations, having lower positions than the perpetrators at work, will not be able to speak out for fear of risking their survival and labor rights,” Lim Yun-ok, head of the Korean Women Workers Association, commented.
By Jo He-rim (firstname.lastname@example.org