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Seoul’s Mayor Championed Girls’s Rights. The #MeToo Allegations In opposition to Him Have Bitterly Divided Korea

Seoul’s Mayor Championed Women’s Rights. The #MeToo Allegations Against Him Have Bitterly Divided Korea

Yezoi Hwang for TIMELee Eun Kyung, who was on the panel of judges that presided over Korea’s first-ever sexual harassment case, which Park Gained-soon gained, in her workplace in Seoul on Aug. 3. “We are able to’t let his loss of life cowl the error of his methods,” she says

Lee Eun Kyung remembers Park Gained-soon from his work arguing South Korea’s first-ever sexual harassment case, starting in 1993. Lee was on the panel of judges that first presided over the case, and Park was the star lawyer for the girl’s authorized group. In 1999, after six years of pro-bono work, he helped win a conviction, additionally a primary for the nation.

“I bear in mind how Park calmly gave his protection,” Lee recollects.

Park’s high-profile document as a civil rights lawyer helped catapult him into public life. He was elected Seoul mayor in 2011 and was a number one contender to run for president in 2022. Park was extensively seen as a champion of ladies’s rights—till July 10, when his physique was discovered within the mountains of Seoul. Two days earlier, his former secretary had filed a police report, saying he sexually harassed her for 4 years. Park’s obvious suicide and the accusations in opposition to him have bitterly divided Korea, which should confront the uncomfortable questions behind the gleaming legacy of one of many nation’s strongest males.

Park Won-soon celebrates with supporters after being elected Mayor of Seoul on Oct. 27, 2011
Jeon Heon-Kyun—EPA/ShutterstockPark Gained-soon celebrates with supporters after being elected Mayor of Seoul on Oct. 27, 2011

For Lee, who acknowledges the importance of Park’s work on the 1990s sexual harassment case, the precedence now could be clear. “We are able to’t let his loss of life cowl the error of his methods,” she says. “The reality have to be uncovered. The sufferer should really feel surrounded by enemies on all 4 sides. She should really feel so lonely.”

Lee now heads a legislation agency with a chic workplace in Seoul. She isn’t affiliated with the case in opposition to Park, though as a long-time advocate of ladies’s rights, she feels compelled to talk out. “It’s dangerous for me to talk publicly to the press about this problem, however I needed to speak. I needed to offer energy to the sufferer within the small method that I can.”

Learn extra: How #MeToo Is Taking over a Lifetime of Its Personal in Asia

However, Park’s loss of life has incited as a lot defensiveness as disappointment. The reminiscences of his righteous previous, together with his function within the 1990s sexual harassment case, are deepening the divide. To his supporters, his previous is vindication that he was man, that his accuser is within the flawed. To others, his “good man” picture is a painful reminder of his alleged betrayal—and that hypocrisy isn’t all the time seen to the general public.

“He led the group chargeable for making sexual harassment punishable by legislation for the primary time in Korea. And now, only a few days after he was accused of sexual harassment, he was discovered lifeless. All that is very surprising,” says Lee.

Police officers carry Park's body on July 10
Chung Sung-Jun—Getty PhotographsLaw enforcement officials carry Park’s physique on July 10

Few of Park’s defenders have been prepared to be interviewed concerning the allegations, however one of many fellow legal professionals from the 1990s sexual harassment case spoke to TIME on the situation of anonymity, citing skilled backlash: “That man devoted his life to human rights. Which of us is 100% excellent?… We’re solely listening to one facet of the story.”

A lot of his supporters argue that the sexual harassment accusation shouldn’t erase the accomplishments he made throughout his life’s work. “Should we abandon every little thing he left behind for the ladies on this land?” wrote historian Chun Wooyong, who additionally criticized politicians refusing to attend Park’s funeral service. “Tears stream ceaselessly down my face.”

Nonetheless others, notably on social media, have attacked Park’s former secretary for hurting him and his household.

The accusation

Park’s former secretary, who has not been publicly named, detailed her accusations on July 13—three days after he was discovered lifeless. At a press convention that was known as collectively with outstanding ladies’s organizations, her lawyer mentioned the mayor touched her inappropriately within the bed room hooked up to his workplace, despatched photos of himself in his underwear and requested her for photos.

Left: Kim Hye-jeong (R), deputy head of the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center, holds up a sign declaring solidarity with Park's former secretary on July 13; Right: A city official holds Park's suicide note outside the funeral hall of Seoul National University on July 10
Yonhap/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock; Yonhap/AFP/Getty PhotographsLeft: Kim Hye-jeong (R), deputy head of the Korea Sexual Violence Aid Heart, holds up an indication declaring solidarity with Park’s former secretary on July 13; Proper: A metropolis official holds Park’s suicide word outdoors the funeral corridor of Seoul Nationwide College on July 10

“The day I mustered the braveness to file my grievance, and was questioned all through the evening, the person who ruined my human dignity let go of his personal,” she wrote in a letter learn by her representatives.

Particularly troubling, are her accusations that he used his positions to proceed abusing her. She says she was assigned to wake the mayor from his naps, as a result of she was instructed he’d be much less irritated by a feminine secretary. “The character of the secretary’s job was to maintain the mayor joyful,” mentioned her representatives in a written assertion.

“Inside the security of a courtroom, I needed to yell at him to cease. I needed to scream that I’m in ache,” wrote Park’s former secretary, who says she determined to report her boss after receiving counseling. Her authorized group says it has screenshots of her conversations with the mayor on the messaging app Telegram.

A landmark case

The 1990s sexual harassment case that Park argued was a milestone for ladies’s rights. It was additionally a private one for Lee, who had simply turned 30 in 1994, when her group first declared the perpetrator responsible. She was the one feminine decide in her group, in an period the place ladies have been so uncommon within the justice system that her court docket constructing didn’t even have loos for ladies. “I used to be the one decide recognized within the media by my gender, and age in parenthesis,” she recollects.

Lee working as a judge in the 90s in Seoul
Courtesy Eun-Kyung LeeLee working as a decide within the 1990s in Seoul

Her group fined Shin Jeong-hyu, a chemistry professor from Seoul Nationwide College, 30 million gained (about $25,000 at present) for harassing a scholar. “These days, sexual harassment is a well-recognized idea,” says Lee. “Again then, it was nonetheless very new. [At the time] individuals mentioned, ‘Why does one thing like this should be fined?’ The court docket even acquired phone calls threatening to blow us up.”

“Society was divided on the time,” says Lee Sooyeon, an honorary senior analysis fellow on the Korean Girls’s Growth Institute, a authorities assume tank. “I bear in mind being enraged by my husband, who was additionally a professor within the sciences. He mentioned, ‘Professor Shin is an efficient particular person. There’s no method he’d do that.’”

On the time, many minimized the sufferer’s experiences by highlighting the perpetrator’s good deeds and popularity, downplaying the harm of sexual harassment, or outright calling her a “flower snake”—a Korean time period for a feminine con artist who exploits males by intercourse enchantment. Shin, the perpetrator, even revealed a guide in protection, Am I A Sexually Harassing Professor?

In 1999, the Supreme Courtroom lastly upheld the unique resolution by Lee’s group (with a smaller nice). Since then, Korea has made leaps in ladies’s rights. There are numerous legal guidelines concerning sexual offenses and a vibrant feminist motion.


However the present backlash surrounding Park’s former secretary feels eerily acquainted to the rhetoric over 20 years in the past. She, too, has been labeled a flower snake—by a few of Park’s defenders on social media.

Over 40,000 South Korean women protest against sexism and hidden camera pornography on Aug. 4, 2018 in Seoul
Jean Chung—Getty PhotographsOver 40,000 South Korean ladies protest in opposition to sexism and hidden digicam pornography in Seoul on Aug. 4, 2018

Outstanding liberals have publicly sided with the mayor, saying the harassment allegations are “missing proof” and damaging to Park’s household.

Doubting the credibility of #MeToo survivors—regardless of analysis that reveals persistently low charges of false sexual violence allegations—is so commonplace worldwide that backlash appears to return with the territory, particularly when an alleged perpetrator is as revered and highly effective as Park.

“Sexual harassment is extraordinarily onerous to show. Normally the one proof are witness testimonies,” says scholar Lee Sooyeon. “It additionally isn’t a matter of romance; it’s about energy. When energy is concerned, it’s extremely onerous for individuals to reject the abuse. They don’t know when to say no. That’s how sexual harassment intensifies.”

The facility dynamics are particularly inflexible for secretaries and it wasn’t a straightforward atmosphere to attract clear boundaries.

“Individuals accuse her why it took so lengthy to return out,” says Lee Eun Kyung, the previous decide. “However the truth that it took her 4 years reveals how helpless a small particular person feels inside a robust system.”

“The sufferer requested a division switch a number of instances,” Track Ran-hee, secretary basic of Korea Girls’s Hotline, mentioned in a second press convention representing the previous secretary on July 22. “What makes her endure essentially the most aren’t the web feedback of utter strangers. It’s the truth that round 20 colleagues, who knew concerning the scenario immediately and not directly, hid, distorted and minimized the case.”

Political implications

Partisan nationwide politics have been an undercurrent complicating the general public response to the case. Park was one of the crucial outstanding members of the ruling Democratic Celebration, along with being the chief of the South Korean capital.

After initially denying the harassment allegations as “rumors,” the Seoul authorities—which, satirically sufficient, had an wonderful guide on office sexual harassment beneath Park—has belatedly vowed to “strive its finest in uncovering the reality.” Though the police case associated to the girl’s authentic report was mechanically closed with Park’s loss of life, the Nationwide Human Rights Fee mentioned it should conduct an impartial probe.

The previous secretary’s first press convention coincided with the start of Park’s lavish five-day funeral organized by the Seoul authorities—regardless of practically 600,000 individuals signing a petition opposing the general public ceremony.

Mourners pay their respects at a public memorial for Park in Seoul on July 11
Ed Jones—AFP/Getty PhotographsMourners pay their respects at a public memorial for Park in Seoul on July 11

And nationwide leaders have been inconsistent of their messaging. The pinnacle of the Democratic Celebration got here beneath fireplace for calling a reporter a “bastard,” when questioned on the funeral dwelling concerning the centrist get together’s response to the sexual harassment allegations. President Moon Jae-in has stored silent, regardless of operating in 2017 as a “feminist president”; in the meantime, his press secretary publicly expressed help for the sufferer, solely to make clear a number of hours later that it was his private opinion, and “not the Blue Home’s official place.”

The #MeToo motion, which has swept the nation since 2018, has introduced down outstanding males, most just lately the mayor of Busan, South Korea’s second largest metropolis. Previous to Park Gained-soon, essentially the most outstanding #MeToo scandal was that surrounding Ahn Heejung, who was additionally a star within the Democratic Celebration and a powerful presidential contender. Ahn is now in jail for raping and harassing Kim Ji-eun, his former secretary.

“To be able to #MeToo, I needed to threat my life as a employee, which meant every little thing to me. I needed to abandon the long run I constructed,” Kim instructed newspaper Hankook Ilbo. “I felt wretched and distressed [seeing Park’s case]. Her scenario is so just like mine. Two years in the past, I shouted #MeToo, hoping there can be no extra victims. However actuality hasn’t modified a bit. I couldn’t cease crying.”

‘A piece in progress’

“The #MeToo motion in Korea is a piece in progress,” says scholar Lee Sooyeon, who researches sexual abuse insurance policies for the federal government. She says the finances associated to sexual harassment prevention has elevated in recent times, together with consciousness. “However it’s nonetheless onerous to systematize our concepts. We have to journey the present momentum to push for extra change.”

Publicly, Park Gained-soon believed in justice for ladies. “I made a decision to volunteer as protection as a result of I’m sure the immovable fact stands with the sufferer,” he mentioned in 1994. But a word, discovered not lengthy after his loss of life, says nothing of the alleged sufferer within the present case.

Lee Eun Kyung, regardless of her respect for what Park did previously, believes the case have to be rigorously investigated. “Why do sexual harassment and violence proceed in South Korean society? Park’s loss of life can’t blur out the reality of the case. We have to be courageous.”

Lee outside her office
Yezoi Hwang for TIMELee outdoors her workplace in Seoul.

If you happen to or somebody could also be considering suicide, within the U.S. name the Nationwide Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or textual content HOME to 741741 to achieve the Disaster Textual content Line. In emergencies, name 911 or search care from a neighborhood hospital or psychological well being supplier. In South Korea, contact the Korea Suicide Prevention Heart at 1393 or LifeLine Korea at 1588-9191.