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Groups demand prosecutor’s sacking

Activists protest relocation of prosecutor suspected of sexual harassment

Women’s rights groups in Gwangju are protesting the deployment of a prosecutor accused of sexually harassing female reporters.

On Monday morning, an association of women’s groups in the city issued a statement denouncing the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office for deciding to dispatch Choi Jae-ho, a mid-ranking prosecutor from Seoul Western Prosecutors’ Office, to the region, after complaints of repeated sexual harassment were filed.

“Gwangju is not a place of exile for molesters. Posting Choi to Gwangju is an insult to Gwangju women,” they said. The association threatened to stage a mass rally should Choi’s appointment become official.

On March 28 at an official dinner between prosecutors of the district and journalists, Choi grabbed and petted the hand of a female reporter from a vernacular daily sitting next to him. The reporter claimed that Choi also groped several other parts of her body including her thighs.

Against her resistance, he reportedly whispered, “Where do you live? Let me take you there.” The reporter, said to have been petrified, warned him that he was making a mistake but he did not listen. She then left her seat.

Choi moved next to another woman reporter and said, “Where do you live? I want to take you there.” Hours earlier, he had tried to flirt with her by saying that she resembled his first love.

“I would love for you to come to my office for a cup of tea,” he allegedly told her.

The two reporters told Choi’s colleagues to take their boss home and demanded an apology, but Choi was reportedly too intoxicated to understand the situation and apologize.

The next morning, after he was briefed about the previous night’s incident, Choi called the reporters and offered an apology, insisting that his actions came under the influence of alcohol and that he did not remember the details.

“Choi seemed to think that if he apologized, everything would be okay,” one of the victims said.

The incident was made public when the victims’ colleagues complained to the prosecution leadership. Alongside the Gwangju group’s protests, the National Union of Media Workers demanded Choi’s dismissal.

On Monday afternoon, Choi offered his resignation but had it rejected.

Instead, the leadership requested that the Ministry of Justice take heavy disciplinary measures against Choi.

“He should be punished with dismissal if all allegations turn out to be true. He should not be the one to quit,” an insider with the prosecution said.

The victims of Choi’s harassment said they are planning to sue.

“I have consulted with our firm lawyer and will file the suit should the prosecution give leniency to one of its members, such as dispatching him overseas or accepting his resignation,” one said to a local daily.

This is not the first time prosecutors have been accused of sexual harassment or assault.

In March last year, a prosecutor surnamed Koo was dismissed after forcibly kissing an apprentice-trainee at a karaoke hall. Last June, another mid-ranking prosecutor surnamed Park had his salary reduced after forcing two of his prosecutor-apprentices to dance with him. In 1999, a prosecutor was accused of groping a female reporter and given a 25-day suspension.

“About 17.9 percent of prosecution staff are females but the male-dominated culture and atmosphere suffocates them. Many of the male colleagues do not have any idea which remarks or deeds could upset women,” a female prosecution official said.

The Ministry of Justice has been carrying out gender equality education for its mid- and high ranking members. They learn about gender equality through role plays and debates to increase mutual understanding.

“We are continuously making efforts to change the organization culture,” a ministry official said.

By Bae Ji-sook (