Kim Jong-cheol, the chief of the Justice Party, resigned Monday due to his sexual misconduct.
It is shocking that the leader of a progressive party, which claims to champion gender equality, sexually molested a female lawmaker of the same party.
The party disclosed Kim’s sexual harassment and even identified the victim, at her request. The perpetrator admitted to his wrongdoings, apologized and called on the party to sternly punish him.
It may be fortunate the party did not hush up the incident and Kim did not shun responsibility.
Similar incidents have happened to two elected officials of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea. But their responses have been different.
Oh Keo-don stepped down as Busan mayor due to sexual harassment of his female aide. Park Won-soon, then Seoul mayor, died by suicide amid suspicions that his death was related to the sexual harassment suit filed by his female secretary hours before he was reported missing.
Oh sexually harassed a female aide in his office on ceApril 7, 2020, but when the victim demanded he resign, he promised to resign by the end of April. He disclosed his sexual harassment in a press conference on April 23. There are suspicions that he may have put off his resignation with an intention of preventing his sexual misconduct from affecting the April 15 general elections.
He had his pledge notarized by a law firm said to be connected to President Moon Jae-in. This invites suspicions that the party may have known of the incident through the connection but kept its mouth shut on purpose.
In pretrial detention hearings, Oh showed an ambivalent attitude by arguing he could not remember specific behavior though he admitted committing the crime.
Park’s case is mired in controversies related to secondary victimization.
From the beginning, the party paid little attention to the victim. Rather, the capital municipality accorded him a Seoul mayoral funeral.
Some lawmakers initially called the victim a “person desperate to tell people she was victimized,” a strange term they coined apparently to make the victim’s case sound less convincing.
Ardent fans of the former Seoul mayor and President Moon blamed the victim, with a pro-Park female prosecutor ridiculing her as a con artist.
A pro-Moon civic group threatened to accuse the victim of murdering Park by suing him.
The prosecution suspect that Nam In-soon, a DP lawmaker said to be close to Park, tipped him off beforehand in connection with the accusation. It is surprising that Nam is a figure dubbed the godmother of the feminist movement in Korea.
The National Human Rights Commission announced Monday that Park’s behavior amounted to sexual harassment. Earlier, a court judge had recognized his sexual misconduct indirectly in a sexual assault case involving Park’s victim but unrelated to Park.
The victim, who complains of extreme distress, demanded Nam apologize and resign, but there has been no response from either Nam or the DP leadership. Rather, the party revised its constitution that bans contesting by-elections for seats vacated by its members due to sexual misconduct. Its potential candidates are preparing to run in Seoul and Busan mayoral by-elections. Given this, it is questionable if the party is committed to rooting out sexual violence.
Kim’s sexual harassment presents an identity crisis for the minor progressive party. It must reflect thoroughly on why the scandal happened to the party which claims to fight sexual violence. It needs to check if there are problems in its organizational culture and the gender sensitivity of its members.
“Anyone becomes a sexual abuser the moment he fails to perceive others as dignified beings,” Rep. Jang Hye-young, the sexual harassment victim of the Justice Party, said in her statement, “There is no exception, no matter how great or respectable life he has lived.” All politicians, liberal or conservative, must keep her remarks in mind.
Secondary victimizing has no place in dealing with sexual offense victims. Unfortunately, it is happening to the former Seoul mayor’s victim. The secondary harassers should know that a sex offense is a matter of human rights that must not be used politically. Parties and their supporters must handle sexual violence issues strictly in the victim’s position.