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Prosecutors grapple with groping revelation

Feb 01,2018
The Supreme Public Prosecutors’ Office announced Wednesday that it will create a special team to look into prosecutor Seo Ji-hyeon’s claims that she was groped by a senior colleague eight years ago. The team will also examine other cases of sexual assault by prosecutors and plan policies to prevent recurrences.

On Monday, Seo went public in an interview with JTBC Newsroom about allegedly being groped by Ahn Tae-geun, then-director general for policy planning at the Ministry of Justice, at the funeral of another colleague’s father on Oct. 30, 2010.

Seo, 45, is currently a prosecutor at the Tongyeong branch of the Changwon District Public Prosecutors’ Office.

“We formed an inspection team in an effort to take an in-depth look into the sexual assault case and come up with preventive measures,” an official with the top prosecutors’ office said. “The purpose of this team is to end the practice of one gender being oppressed by the other and having to put up with it.”

The team will be headed by Cho Hee-jin, 55, currently chief of the Seoul Eastern District Prosecutors’ Office and the first woman to direct any district prosecutors’ office in the country.

The team, expected to have around 10 members, will consist of prosecutors and investigators of both genders who have experience dealing with sexual assault cases.

“It doesn’t feel good that I, as a senior female colleague, wasn’t aware of what Seo went through,” Cho told Yonhap in a phone call.

The team, to be headquartered in the Seoul Eastern District Prosecutors’ Office, will look into Seo’s claims that she was groped and suffered career-wise after complaining. A formal investigation may be launched into the case depending on the team’s findings.

Ahn and Rep. Choi Gyo-il, who allegedly tried to help cover up the assault while serving as chief of the Justice Ministry’s criminal affairs bureau, will be called to answer questions later. Ahn was sacked over a corruption scandal, and Choi is now a sitting lawmaker with the main opposition Liberty Korea Party.

Besides looking into Seo’s case, the team will also investigate other cases of sexual discrimination, harassment and assault reported by female prosecutors and other employees.

“We need to create an environment in which victims of sexual assault and violence can make their voices heard without fear, to establish a culture where both men and women can work in safety and equality,” Cho said.

On Wednesday, Seo explained why she went public about the assault via a statement issued through her legal representative. “Victims cannot properly make their voices heard in sexual assault cases within the workplace because others suspect that they have ulterior motives when speaking of what happened.

“Please pay attention to not what happened in the funeral but to why I couldn’t speak up afterwards, and why the institution didn’t listen to me when I spoke up for myself,” Seo pleaded.

BY KIM EUN-BIN, KIM EUN-JIN [kim.eunjin1@joongang.co.kr]