[FOCUS] Female prosecutor's #MeToo sparks public outcry and investigation

Lim Chang-won Reporter Posted : 2018-01-30 15:43 Updated : 2018-01-30 15:43
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State prosecutor Seo Ji-hyeon speaks about her story in a cable news program. [Yonhap News Photo]

SEOUL, Jan. 30 (Aju News) -- Inspired by the #MeToo movement that exposed the prevalence of sexual harassment in the United States and other countries, a middle-aged female state prosecutor in South Korea came forward to reveal her story, sparking a public outcry in a patriarchal society.

In a cable news program on Monday, Seo Ji-hyeon, a 46-year-old prosecutor in the southeastern city of Changwon, insisted she was the victim of sexual harassment by a drunken senior prosecutor at a funeral attended by top justice ministry officials in October 2010.

"I want to tell the victims of sexual violence that it is not your fault," she said,
accusing Ahn Tae-geun, who served a senior justice ministry official at the time, of
groping her body. The man was sacked in June last year for handing out money to his subordinates at a private dinner in return for their help in a political case.

As public resentment grew, Ahn made a guarded apology for "things that happened", claiming he could not remember because he was intoxicated at the time and it happened a long time ago.

"He wrapped my waist and stroked my ass, but no one stopped the harassment. I felt a sense of tremendous insult and shame because of the sudden harassment in a public place," Seo said, arguing that the Prosecution Office has often covered up cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault at the workplace.

She said she could not speak out because her acquaintances fearing disadvantage in the workplace stopped her. "I just blamed my incompetence and there was no other way but to shut up and work."

Seo made a separate revelation through the prosecution's internal online board Monday, saying another senior ministry official, who is now an incumbent lawmaker of the conservative opposition Liberty Korea Party, covered up her case and she was transferred to an unwanted regional post in 2015 over her complaint and demand for a personal apology.

She said the "#MeToo" movement prompted her to come forward after enduring eight years of agony and regrets. Her TV appearance and revelation went viral online, triggering public anger. An online public petition was filed with the presidential office, attracting thousands of citizens signing up to call for a quick and fair investigation.

On Tuesday, Prosecutor-General Moon Moo-il promised to conduct a thorough probe and take action, saying he takes Seo's case seriously.

The "#MeToo" movement has exposed a slew of allegations against some of the world's most powerful men. However, it has gained little attention in South Korea, which has long been overshadowed by Confucian and conservative ideologies. High-profile figures and celebrities are reluctant to reveal personal experiences due to a different social culture. Sometimes, silence-breakers have been humiliated, become the target of cyberbullying.