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Low-key funeral for actor accused of sexual abuse

Celebrities avoid attending, wary of public opinion
Mar 12,2018
Before he took his own life on Friday, the embattled actor Jo Min-ki left a note apologizing to his family and students for the sexual harassment allegations against him.

The police discovered the note on Saturday while inspecting his home, officers said. The note was discovered where Jo’s wife found his dead body on Friday, in the storage room of an apartment building in Gwangjin District, eastern Seoul.

Jo’s funeral at Konkuk University Medical Center in eastern Seoul was sparsely attended, a sign of the scarred reputation that the veteran actor and professor suffered after multiple former students came forward with stories of unwanted sexual advances. At around 4 p.m. on Sunday, there were only 10 or so people milling about the funeral space.

On Saturday, a smattering of actors and television personalities including Ahn Suk-hwan, Kwak Do-won, Im Ye-jin, On Joo-wan and Choi Hwa-jung visited. On Sunday, actor Jin Tae-hyun stopped by.

“I think some actors and actresses are not paying a visit because they are concerned about public opinion [surrounding allegations against Jo],” said Nam Seong-woo, a photographer and acquaintance of Jo.

One employee of the university in Cheongju, North Chungcheong, where Jo previously taught, said staff members were not visiting because Jo is no longer associated with the university. He was fired after stories of his inappropriate behavior first surfaced last month.

The actor’s former agency, Will Entertainment, which severed ties with him after the scandal broke, said it would make no official statement on Jo’s death.

The accusations first started with an anonymous online post on Feb. 20. It was followed by other accounts of misconduct.

“Jo was king of the campus, and no one could stand up to him,” Song Ha-neul, a theater actress, wrote on her Facebook account on Feb. 20. “My friends and I, and my fellow students at Cheongju University, were sexually harassed by Jo.

“He would call girls into his apartment and call them until they came,” she wrote. “Once, my friend and I were called into his apartment. He told us to drink together and have a sleepover there. He made the two of us lie down on the bed, and when we tried to fight back, he would pin us down by force. Then he would get on my stomach and put lotion on my face.

“I felt completely overpowered,” she recalled. “I couldn’t think or make any sounds. He lied down between us, touching our arms and staring at our faces. I had goosebumps all over my body, but I couldn’t do anything.”

Song continued that there were more times than she could count when he engaged in similar behavior. “I remember in the first semester of 2014, some students and Jo went to a karaoke bar and he got drunk and he made female students dance with him,” she wrote. “He would touch their chests… He would also make inappropriate jokes like, ‘You should be fed Viagra because you’re not being aroused as you should be in this scene.’”

In another online post on Feb. 22, a writer said there was a so-called “Jo Min-ki manual” for students to know how to respond to him when he made calls to come over.

“He would call students into his apartments, and male students would try to be there for the female students,” the person wrote. “There was a Jo Min-ki manual. It included a code of conduct like: ‘Do not let Jo alone with a female student at his apartment.’ ‘When a female student is called in, have a male student go with her.’ ‘Male students should try to stay awake despite his continued offers of drinks to get them drunk.’ But really, there was no way to win against Jo Min-ki at his place.”

Police began investigating the actor and harassment claims against him on Feb. 21. Students at Cheongju University issued an official statement on Feb. 24 testifying that Jo did engage in inappropriate behavior toward his students.

Jo’s agency, Will Entertainment, ended its contract with him on Feb. 26. The next day, he issued an apology, saying, “I apologize to all victims, and I will not dodge legal and social responsibility for my actions. I will also step down from all my posts.”

Cheongju University dismissed Jo the next day. Jo was scheduled to be questioned by police on Monday at the North Chungcheong Police Agency.

His daughter, who is studying in the United States, returned to Korea on Saturday, one day after his death. His body was placed inside a coffin around noon on Sunday. His wife reportedly broke down during the process and had to be carried by her children. About 10 relatives attended. Authorities said they decided not to conduct an autopsy on Jo’s body because they did not find any evidence of murder.

BY CHO HAN-DAE, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]