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[Newsmaker] Short track gold medalist sues ex-coach over alleged sexual assault

Olympic short track gold medalist Shim Suk-hee has sued her former coach Cho Jae-beom over alleged sexual assault, police said Tuesday. Cho, who has been serving jailed for committing violence toward short track speedskaters including Shim, denied the allegation.

Short track skater Shim Suk-hee (Yonhap)
Short track skater Shim Suk-hee (Yonhap)

According to Gyeonggi Nambu Provincial Police Agency, Shim filed the complaint against Cho on Dec. 17, which includes the allegation that Cho had raped and sexually molested her since the summer of 2014 when she was 17 years old. 

Shim says the alleged sexual abuse continued until two months before the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. The alleged rapes took place at a coach’s locker room at Korea National Sport University’s ice rink and locker rooms in the National Training Center in Taeneung in Seoul and Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province.

Shim said she could not reveal the ex-coach’s wrongdoings even to her family as Cho had threatened her and her career even since she was in elementary school.

The 22-year-old speedskater, however, decided to go public after she received a letter from a fan, according to local broadcaster SBS.

“The fan told her in the letter that Shim’s continued efforts on skating, after all those struggles she suffered at the hands of her former coach, encouraged the fan greatly,” Shim’s attorney was quoted as saying in the SBS report.

“The fact that she can help others motivated Shim to reveal (the alleged sexual assaults). Time has passed but Shim hopes that her disclosure can encourage other victims to open up about their experiences with courage.”

Shim said that she worried the revelation could further damage her career as a skater and her life as a woman. She also worried that Cho may seek revenge. However, she had to speak up to prevent a reoccurrence of such crimes, Shim said.

Shim's former coach Cho Jae-beom (Yonhap)
Shim's former coach Cho Jae-beom (Yonhap)

While the ex-coach denied the allegations of sexual assault through his attorney, police began investigating the allegation by looking into Cho’s mobile phone and tablet PC.

Cho’s wrongdoings became public when Shim abruptly left the Jincheon National Training Center just weeks before the PyeongChang Olympics, as Cho had brutally hit her. Shim said she suffered a concussion during the assault, which led her to slip at the Olympics.

Cho was indicted in January 2018 for committing violence against four skaters, including Shim, starting from 2011. The court sentenced Cho to 10 months in jail in September 2018.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism on Wednesday announced that the government would impose stiffer penalties on sex offenders, as part of efforts to root out sexual violence in sports.

According to the ministry, the government will expand the range of sexual abuses that are punishable by the “one-strike out” policy, which bans a perpetrator of sexual violence from working in the sports industry.

Under the current Korean Sport and Olympic Committee and Korean Paralympic Committee’s regulations, a perpetrator could be expelled from the respective sports organizations for committing rape or “quasi-rape.” The expanded range of offenses is to cover sexual molestation as well.

In addition, the ministry said it plans to jointly work with international sports organizations such as the International Olympic Committee and national Olympic committees on restricting perpetrators from working with them.

The government will survey organizations included in the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee and the Korean Paralympic Committee by March and punish wrongdoers with strong measures.

The ministry will also create a dedicated team to which victims can report their case and obtain legal advice. The team will help victims sue perpetrators and offer counseling services as well.