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[Newsmaker] Court acknowledges sexual harassment by late Seoul mayor

Former Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon (Yonhap)
Former Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon (Yonhap)
A local court acknowledged that former Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, who was found dead in July in an apparent suicide, had sexually harassed his former secretary in a separate trial involving the victim and a former city employee.

The Seoul Central District Court said the victim suffered considerable mental distress due to Park’s unwanted sexual advances while handing down a ruling in a case where another employee of the Seoul city government was accused of sexually assaulting the same victim.

The court sentenced the former Seoul city employee, surnamed Jung, to 3 1/2 years in prison Thursday for raping an intoxicated colleague. Jung, who worked with the victim for then-Mayor Park, was accused of taking the victim to a motel and raping her while she was inebriated after an office dinner in April. The victim has said she also had faced ongoing sexual harassment by the mayor since before then.

“The accused raped the victim when she was unable to protest due to being under the influence,“ Judge Jo Seong-pil of the Seoul Central District Court said, adding the “secondary damage” is considerable and the victim has found it difficult to return to work.

The victim separately accused Park of sexual harassment in July. Park went missing a day after the complaint was filed against him and was found dead in an apparent suicide the next day.

After investigating the sexual harassment case for five months, police officially closed the probe into Park last month without charges, citing a lack of evidence. The case was sent to the prosecution.

In court hearings, Jung had admitted to most of the charges but denied responsibility for inflicting post-traumatic stress disorder on the victim. He claimed that the late mayor’s sexual harassment was at the root of her PTSD.

The court said in its ruling that Park’s actions had caused the victim considerable mental distress, but his actions were not the direct cause of her suffering PTSD.

“(In testimony by the victim,) ex-Mayor Park sent her vulgar text messages, photos of him in underwear, and she received text messages saying ‘(I) want to smell (you)’ and ‘You have a good body. Send me a picture,’” the court said. “Given the testimony, it is true that the victim suffered considerable mental distress due to Park’s sexual harassment.”

But the “fundamental cause” of her PTSD was the defendant’s actions, the court said.

Following the ruling, Kim Jae-ryon, the lawyer representing the victim, said the ruling could provide some comfort to the victim, who had lost her chance to mount a legal challenge against the mayor.

Meanwhile, the prosecution launched an investigation into Rep. Nam In-soon of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and Kim Young-soon, head of the Korean Women’s Associations United, over suspicions they leaked information about the victim’s complaint against Park.

Releasing a part of its investigation result, the Seoul Northern District Prosecutor’s Office said last month that Park had been informed about the complaint to be filed against him from Lim Soon-young, the late mayor’s former adviser for gender equality.

Kim and Nam are suspected of having informed Lim before the victim brought the case to police, according to the prosecution.

Lim is said to have asked Park if he was involved in a “disgraceful” incident. Park initially denied it but later told her that the text messages he had sent to the victim could be seen as “problematic,” according to the prosecution.

By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)
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