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Harrassment stories mushroom

Women in criminal justice system find a voice on sexual abuse
Feb 06,2018
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Members of civic groups in South Gyeongsang stage a rally in front of the Tongyeong branch of Changwon District Prosecutors’ Office on Monday to support Seo Ji-hyeon, a woman prosecutor who sparked a “Me Too” campaign in Korea. [YONHAP]
A prosecutor who went public about being groped by a former Justice Ministry official last week has sparked her female colleagues to rally for prosecution reform.

Cho Hee-jin, the female chief of the Seoul Eastern District Prosecutor’s Office, is helming a special probe into the claims of Seo Ji-hyeon. Of the seven members of the team launched by the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office on Thursday, six are female prosecutors.

Cho, 56, served as chief of the Uijeongbu District Public Prosecutors’ Office and Jeju District Prosecutors’ Office, and worked as a senior prosecutor in the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office and also as an official at the Justice Ministry’s criminal affairs bureau. She became the first female deputy prosecutor general in the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office in 2013, a much-coveted prosecutor position equivalent to the rank of a vice minister.

The deputy chief of the special probe, 52-year-old Hwang Eun-yeong, is a deputy prosecutor general in the Goyang branch of the Uijeongbu District Prosecutors’ Office with a long record of sex crime investigations. She has worked on the Justice Ministry’s human rights policies and also served as a senior prosecutor in the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office’s team investigating crimes against women and children.

Other members of the team include Park Hyun-joo, a prosecutor based in Suwon specializing in crimes against women and children. She was nicknamed the “black belt prosecutor” after being recognized in June 2016 for displaying exceptional expertise in criminal investigations and resolving over 800 sex crime cases.

On Jan. 20, Seo, 45, appeared on JTBC Newsroom and claimed that Ahn Tae-geun, then-director general for policy planning at the Ministry of Justice and a former prosecutor, groped her at the funeral of a mutual colleague’s father on Oct. 30, 2010. Seo, a prosecutor then working in Seoul and currently based in Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang, claimed her career took a dive after a cover-up by prosecutors and the Justice Ministry after she complained. Her testimony has highlighted sexual abuse in the workplace and triggered the seeds of a “Me Too” campaign in Korea.

Other female prosecutors like Lim Eun-jeong have started speaking out on an issue previously ignored or dominated by male voices.

Lim, a prosecutor with the Seoul Northern Prosecutors’ Office, has called for Cho to step down as chief of the special probe. Lim claimed that when she posted an allegation of sexual misconduct by a prosecution official on her social media account in 2016, Cho told her to take down the post immediately and verbally abused her, telling her to “seek psychological treatment.”

On Monday, Lim came forward on e-pros, the prosecution’s internal forum, and said that she experienced a similar sexual assault 15 years ago and that her career suffered as a result. Lim said that in May 2003, while she was working in Gyeongju, a senior prosecutor forced his tongue in her mouth in an elevator ride. In 2005, while she was working at the Busan District Prosecutors’ Office, she said another superior forced her to attend a drinking party after dinner, and then went to seek out a prostitute afterward. The prosecutor was actually in charge of handling prostitution crimes. Lim formally reported this to higher-ups but nothing came of it.

Lim is known for posting on the prosecutors’ internal board many criticisms of her organization.

BY YOON HO-JIN, PARK SA-RA AND SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]