03/12/2018, 17.57
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MeToo movement turns South Korea against sexual abuse

Charges are levelled at leading political, artistic, religious and social figures. Harsher sentences have been introduced against sex crimes, including in the military. President Moon backs the campaign. The Catholic Church sets up a prevention committee.

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – South Korea has joined the anti-sex abuse campaign as more and more political, religious and community leaders speak out against gender-based discrimination.

The #MeToo movement that began in the United States and spread around the world has also arrived in South Korea, breaking an old taboo that prevented talking about sexual abuse.

Reactions have come from political, artistic and religious circles. International Women’s Day (8 March) was particularly heated as women's groups took to the streets, holding events and marches.

Today, lawmaker Min Byung-doo submitted his resignation to the National Assembly, after a woman accused him of sexual harassment.

This come after the Democratic Party was rocked by sexual assault allegations against An Hee-jung, a high-profile provincial governor who was seen as a potential contender in the next presidential election.

As a result of this, the Democratic Party said it would adopt “zero tolerance” over sexual abuse.

President Moon also took a clear position. He reiterated his support for the #Me Too movement on 3 March, promising to eradicate gender discrimination and sexual violence in the country.

"With the MeToo movement, our society is in the midst of a crucial change," Moon said in the congratulatory message he issued for International Women’s day.

The authorities did not limit themselves to words. They plan to raise maximum prison sentence for obtaining sex through abuse from five to ten years.

The statute of limitations will also be extended to ten years from the current seven-year threshold.

And in sexual harassment cases, the maximum punishment will be raised to five years from the current two-year ceiling.

In a report to the National Assembly, the Military Court of Korea said it plans to introduce the so-called "one strike, you're out" system against soldiers committing sexual crimes.

It set a range of stronger punishments: dismissal for rape, demotion for sexual assault or abuse and suspension for sexual harassment or sex trafficking.

South Korea’s entertainment industry has also not been spared, with charges falling on directors, actors and musicians.

The suicide of actor Jo Min-ki has sent shock waves. His lifeless body was found last Friday in a garage near his home. His funeral was held yesterday.

He took his life after students at Cheongju University, where he taught drama, accused him of rape and sexual harassment. Before he died, he left a handwritten six-pages apology.

His death has sparked a heated debate between activists and those who accuse the movement of a "witch hunt". President Moon himself has been accused of being responsible for the actor's death because of his support for the movement.

Last Friday, the South Korean Catholic Church announced that it was setting up a committee to counter sexual assaults in the Church, after a priest was blamed for an attempted rape against a volunteer worker.

The decision was announced at the end of the five-day general meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea (CBCK).

The Bishops’ Conference said it had also decided to open dedicated channels within dioceses where victims can report sexual wrongdoing.

As a press conference in Seoul in late February, CBCK president Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-joong apologised to victims, their families and those "who have been let down and enraged by" the clergy.

So far, the campaign has also popularised the "Pence Rule", named after the US Vice President Mike Pence who said that he would never meet an unaccompanied woman without his wife present.

One unintended consequence of the MeToo movement is that increasingly, women are saying that they are being isolated in the workplace as men reduce contacts with their female colleagues, fearing sexual harassment charges.

Still, the latest findings about sex-related abuse in South Korea show a sharp increase. According to data compiled by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, there were 385 reported cases of sexual abuse in Seoul schools in 2016, up 74.2 percent from 221 in 2013.

Nationwide, the data indicate that sexual assault cases at schools rose by 171.9 per cent (or 2,387 cases) in 2016 over four years earlier.

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