[Editorial] Mourning Park and honoring his values does not equate to discounting a victim of sexual harassment

Posted on : 2020-07-13 15:56 KST Modified on : 2020-07-13 15:56 KST
People mourn the death of Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon in Seoul Plaza on July 12. (Yonhap News)
People mourn the death of Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon in Seoul Plaza on July 12. (Yonhap News)

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon’s suicide has prompted a mixture of mourning and criticism that is escalating into social conflict. The sad fact is that the deceased is being denigrated while the former secretary who accused him of sexual harassment is being traumatized all over again.

Those engaging in secondary victimization should be held strictly accountable for their actions. That includes not only slander and defamation but also doxing the woman and spreading fake news and conspiracy theories about her. The police have also promised to take stern action.

Some groups have drawn the extreme conclusion that women shouldn’t be hired as secretaries, representing the twisted tendency of shifting the blame to Park’s former secretary. But the mockery of the deceased and live broadcasts at his funeral and the site of his death are just as disrespectful.

The shock and disappointment caused by Park’s death are manifesting in complex forms, but at the very least we should refrain from extreme words and actions that violate common decency and the law.

At such times, politicians have a crucial role to play in restoring calm. It was inappropriate both for Democratic Party leader Lee Hae-chan to blow up when a reporter asked about the party’s response to allegations of sexual harassment and for United Future Party floor spokesperson Bae Hyeon-jin to bring up allegations about irregularities in the military service of Park’s son.

Both those who are mourning the deceased and those who are criticizing him are drawing upon their respective experiences and values. The people lined up to pay their respects in front of Seoul City Hall reportedly include no small number of people who benefited, directly or indirectly, from Park’s policies, including community activists and those who assist people with disabilities.

No enmity should be felt for those who agree with the values and ideals that Park achieved through his civic activism and work as mayor and who want to honor him for that work. The same goes for those who sympathize with the woman who complained of sexual harassment and those who want to prevent other women from suffering in that way. Indeed, examining the systemic problems that made such behavior possible conforms to the spirit with which Park himself advocated human rights and gender equality.

The problem is the tendency to assume that people have to choose between these two positions, even though they aren’t contradictory. Those who insist that mourning Park counts as aggression against his former secretary or that solidarity with his secretary constitutes the rejection of those who mourn are engaging in simplistic thinking that harms all involved, without doing a bit of good.

This confusion is partly due to the suddenness of it all, which left people with no chance to collect their thoughts or work through their emotions. After the funeral has been held in all solemnity, there will be time to calmly ponder the lessons left by Park’s life and death. The proper way to remember Park Won-soon, both as a social innovator and a human being, is to move Korean society a step further down the path to development by carrying on his achievements and by correcting his flaws.

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

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