‘Blaming, shaming’

Woman who sparked #MeToo movement in South Korea says she has no regrets despite retaliation

A South Korean prosecutor whose allegations of sexual abuse against a senior colleague helped jumpstart the #MeToo movement in Korea in January says that she continues to face professional consequences as a result of her decision to come forward — but that she nonetheless still believes that speaking out was the right decision. Seo Ji-hyun, 45, prompted an outpouring of responses — both of support and condemnation — when she revealed that a senior colleague, Ahn Tae-geun had repeatedly groped her at the funeral of another co-worker’s father eight years ago.

After the groping, she said, she spoke to other senior prosecutors who promised her that Ahn would give her personal apology that never materialized. Instead, she was reprimanded, transferred across the country to Tongyeong, a small town on the country’s South Coast, and reassigned to a more junior position. When she made a formal complaint alleging that the move was a retaliatory measure by Ahn, she was again reprimanded by her superiors — this time for allegedly exhibiting disloyalty to the company by causing a fuss.

Speaking to the AFP, Seo acknowledged that she considered going into hiding after coming forward about her experience.

“It felt so shameful that as a prosecutor whose job is to seek justice, I could not even speak out about this criminal act,” she said. “I couldn’t bear it any more. When I decided to speak out on TV — which amounts to social suicide — I was ready to resign and become a recluse.”

Last year, Ahn, was fired from the agency for corruption and indicted for abusing his position to force senior prosecutors into reassigning Seo to a junior position. He has denied allegations of sex abuse, claiming that he was too drunk to remember the events of the 2010 funeral, and was not formally charged for his alleged harassment of Seo as South Korea has a one-year statute of limitations on such accusations.

Seo’s bravery also inspired countless other women to share their own stories — leading to consequences for abusers in positions of power across the country, including former presidential contender Ahn Hee-jung who was acquitted last month of repeatedly raping a female aide after a court ruled that the aide hadn’t exhibited “victim-like” behavior because she had continued to work for him instead of quitting.

Since speaking out, Seo has been on sick leave and she admits that she’s unlikely to ever return to her job as a prosecutor.

“But I don’t regret what I did,” she said. “The long history of blaming, shaming and muzzling victims of sex abuse — instead of perpetrators — should stop here, now.”

Watch video of Seo below.

Ready the full story at The Japan Times.

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