#MeToo movement comes to South Korea in wake of Seo Ji-hyeon allegations

Posted on : 2018-02-02 18:34 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Outpouring of public support for the prosecutor has been evident across social media
Demonstrators outside of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office in the Seocho District of Seoul hold signs showing their support for the #MeToo movement during a press conference on Feb. 1. (by Baek So-ah
Demonstrators outside of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office in the Seocho District of Seoul hold signs showing their support for the #MeToo movement during a press conference on Feb. 1. (by Baek So-ah

Many South Koreans are voicing their support for the “#MeToo” movement to call out sexual violence, which was triggered by the courageous testimony of Seo Ji-hyeon, a 45-year-old prosecutor at the Tongyang Branch of the Changwon District Prosecutors’ Office. On Feb. 1, social media was inundated with expressions of solidarity for Seo and with testimony by those who said that they too were victims.

Lee Hyo-gyeong, a Democratic Party lawmaker in the Gyeonggi Province legislature, became the first female politician to join the ranks of the #MeToo movement. “Six years ago, I went out for karaoke after dinner with other members of the standing committee. One of my colleagues danced over to me and then suddenly pulled down his pants,” Lee wrote. “Seo Ji-hyeon’s testimony gave me the courage to voice thoughts shared by all South Korean women.”

One university student from Hanyang University identified as “A” posted what she had suffered until last year on her Facebook page with the hashtag #MeToo. She related how one university lecturer had kept coming on to her, saying, “I’d like to be alone with you. Let’s make this a passionate relationship.” The lecturer even grabbed her hand and forced her to make physical contact.

When the head professor in her department heard about this, he pressured the student not to file a complaint with the university. The professor, who was good friends with the lecturer, said, “He only did that because he likes you and didn’t mean to cause a problem. A grown-up woman like yourself shouldn’t blow this out of proportion.” Facing both explicit and implicit threats, “A” had kept this experience to herself until now.

Lim Bo-yeong, a reporter for investigative reporting website Newstapa, also posted on Facebook under the #MeToo hashtag. “While I was working at the National Police Agency in Dec. 2015, I was sexually harassed by my boss, but he was never disciplined,” wrote Lim, who graduated from the Korean National Police University and used to serve on the police force.

A statement of support for Seo Ji-hyeon was issued by 225 members of her class at the Judicial Research and Training Institute.

“It’s hard to even imagine the despair and pain that Seo had to endure over the past eight years. Since we’re sorry for not standing with her then, we intend to stand with her now that she has shown courage on our behalf,” the members said in an expression of solidarity. “We demand a through investigation into the sexual violence that Seo has revealed. We also need to find out if there were any other victims.”

More than 50 women’s rights organizations around the country – including Korean Women's Associations United, Korea Women’s Hotline and the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center – held simultaneous press conferences in front of 15 prosecutors’ offices around the country, including the Supreme Prosecutors' Office in Seoul’s Seocho District and the Seoul Northern District Prosecutors’ Office in the Dobong District. “We are Seo Ji-hyeon. We are in solidarity with Seo’s pain, and we will act courageously to eliminate sexual violence on the job so that women without any connections or influence don’t have to suffer anymore,” the groups said.

 staff photographer)
staff photographer)

By Shin Ji-min, Seo Young-ji, and Ko Han-sol, staff reporters

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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