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More victims contact women’s hotline as Me Too movement grows in Korea

Feb 20,2018
More women in their 40s and 50s are calling a hotline to report incidents of sexual harassment or assault from years before, saying they are finally able to come forth after prosecutor Seo Ji-hyeon sparked the Me Too movement in Korea.

“I was sexually assaulted by an acquaintance five years ago when we went out drinking together,” a woman in her 50s said during a call to Korea Women’s HotLine, which works to protest women from physical and sexual abuse. “I confronted him about it the next day, but he just said, ‘What’s the issue here? We just have to keep seeing each other, that’s all.’”

She added, “The hardest part was that I kept blaming myself for what happened, asking myself why I had gone drinking with him in the first place or stayed out so late. I just wanted to forget about what happened, but I called in after seeing Seo on TV.”

Ever since Seo went public about a former senior prosecutor groping her at a funeral eight years ago, one employee at Korea Women’s HotLine said, more women in their 40s and 50s have been calling in.

“My boss kept touching the back of my neck whenever he came by my cubicle to talk to me about work,” said a woman in her 40s in her call to the hotline. “I tried to stop him from touching me when he spoke to me and he threatened me by saying, ‘I’m warning you. You will be watched closely from now on.’”

“Then he kept giving me a hard time for no reason,” she said. “So I ended up quitting last year.”

Some experts said it would not have been easy for women in their 40s and 50s to report such experiences 10 or 20 years ago.

“When they were starting work in their 20s or 30s, many of these women had to live with sexual harassment and assault in a more male-centric working society back then,” said Park Seon-young, a researcher at the Korean Women’s Development Institute. “They did not have the confidence that, if they came forward as victims, society would be able to protect them. That’s probably why it took years for these women to go public.”

“A lot of these women who are sexually assaulted at work fear telling others what happened to them because they think if they tell, they will be bringing trouble in their workplace,” said Jeong Hye-seon, a lawyer at Esan law firm in southern Seoul.

Since prosecutor Seo went public, the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office has put together a team to investigate claims made by Seo and others claims regarding sexual harassment or assault during their service in the criminal justice system.

“The Me Too movement is not about his or her story, but about our stories,” said Lee Mi-kyung, head of the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center in western Seoul. “The campaign is asking for us, for society, to change.”

BY HONG SANG-JI, SONG WOO-YOUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]