#Human Rights
South Korean Supreme Court

This petition is supported by the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center in Seoul, South Korea. In 2018, Ahn Hee-jung, former governor and presidential hopeful, was accused of raping his secretary, Kim Ji-eun multiple times between 2017 and 2018 while he was a governor of South Chungcheong Province. He was first acquitted by a lower court, but the Seoul High Court reversed the ruling and convicted Mr. Ahn in February 2019.

Human rights and women’s organizations are keeping a close eye on this case, as Mr. Ahn’s trials illustrates the prevalence of sexism and patriarchy in South Korean society, politics, and the court system. The lower court’s initial acquittal blamed Ms. Kim for not acting “victim-like,” and put her on trial instead of the aggressor. For more information on this case, please refer to this New York Times article.

Below attached is a statement written by members of the international community invested in women’s rights and justice for victims of sexual violence. We hope we can count on your support by adding your signature and affiliation to our statement. We will be submitting this statement and its signatures to the South Korean Supreme Court on Tuesday, June 30th, 2019.

Thank you for your support!

Statement by the International Community on the Case of Former Chungcheongnam-do Governor Ahn Hee-jung’s Abuse of Authority in the Workplace and Sexual Violence

We the undersigned are individuals and groups of foreigners concerned with the Ahn Hee-jung case and its implications for the state of sexual violence, abuse of power, and secondary victimization by the South Korean court system.

The case against former Chungcheongnam-do governor, Ahn Hee Jung’s for sexual violence and abuse of power was brought forward by the victim on March 5, 2018. Ahn Hee-jung admitted culpability, although he remained adamant that the relationship was consensual. On August 14, 2018, the Seoul Western District Court found Ahn not guilty, a decision that was heavily criticized by activists, women’s organizations, and human rights groups, who revealed that the verdict used victim-blaming rhetoric to assess “victim-like behavior,” consent in the workplace, and abuse of power. On February 1, 2019, an appeal at the Seoul High Court overturned Ahn’s acquittal, sentencing him to 3 and a half years in prison. The #MeToo movement in Korea and abroad, activists, women’s organizations, and human rights groups were crucial in supporting and creating momentum for this case.

However, there remains a need for the Supreme Court to examine and review the facts surrounding the prosecution of Ahn Hee-jung in order to establish proper precedence, particularly, in regards to cases involving sexual violence victims and the abuse of authority in the workplace.

I. The legacy of patriarchy and abuse of authority in the workplace
The Korean court has a history of alternative interpretations of laws and precedence in cases of male abuse of power against women. According to the Joint Task Force on Ahn Hee-jung’s Sexual Violence Case (consisting of over 158 women’s organizations and human rights groups),[1] Supreme Court precedence defines abuse of power to include not only physical violence and threats, but also exploitation of economic and political status and authority.[2] But in practice, courts have failed to adhere to this definition, and in the case of Ahn Hee-jung, the courts dismissed evidence of non-physical abuse of power. The Ahn Hee-jung case proves that deeply embedded sexism and patriarchy overrules legal precedence and justice.
Furthermore, we are concerned with the lack of empowerment of laborers and workers. The lack of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law leaves many workers under precarious working conditions with little recourse against abuse of power. In global news, we see many articles on the intersections of Confucian values and the persistence of gender inequality found in the Korean workplace.[3] We do not perceive this to be an issue exclusive to East Asia, however, the persistence of both of these practices in South Korea exacerbates the difficulties faced by victims who may be unwilling to come forward in fear of facing retaliation and often results in secondary victimization.[4]

II. Secondary victimization and violence in the court system
Secondary victimization (or double victimization) refers to “victim-blaming” and accusatory behaviors by those with authority or power against victims.[5] Secondary victimization places the onus of the crime on the victim, causing additional trauma and suffering. In the U.S., survivors of sexual assault and rape report high rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, with the majority reporting fear and/or anxiety and other common health problems, including suicidal ideation and depression.[6] In the case of Ahn Hee-jung, the court persisted in scrutinizing the victim beyond reason, affectively interrogating the survivor for “not acting like a victim."[7] As such, we condemn the court’s behavior in subjecting the victim to further violence by judging her behavior and character instead of that of the accused and the court’s initial decision to acquit.[8]

III. Demands and expectations of the Supreme Court by the international community
This statement stands in solidarity with women and minorities in South Korea for a re-evaluation of the court’s proceedings and conduct in cases of sexual violence and abuse of power in the workplace. As the era of #MeToo continues, there can no longer be tolerance for abuses of authority in the workplace, especially in the case of superiors abusing their power over lower-level employees. We demand that the South Korean courts cease the practice of blaming and shaming the victims, perpetuating gender inequality, and silence towards abuse of power. The international community will continue to observe the court’s handling of survivors and any potential secondary victimization carried against them.
As a recognized leader in the MeToo movement, South Korea is setting an example across Asia for women’s rights issues. The precedence set by Ahn Hee-jung’s case and future cases like it will ripple across borders, affecting politics beyond Korea.

We urge the Supreme Court to recognize the status of violence against women in South Korea and establish a precedent that will protect them and other citizens from abuse of power and sexual assault inside and outside of the workplace.

We invite individuals, institutions, scholars, activists, and anyone interested in preserving human rights and justice for women throughout the world to sign this petition. We ask that you please circulate this petition online through social media and through your networks.

[1] Information on the Joint Task Force on Ahn Hee-jung’s Sexual Violence Case can be found at the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center and here.
[2] Supreme Court Decision 1998.1.23 97Do2506; Decision 2008.2.15 2007Do11013; Decision 2008.7.24 2008Do4069.
[3] Justin Fendos, The Diplomat, The #MeToo Movement Finally Arrives in South Korea, February 13, 2018.
[4] The 2017 UNDP Gender Inequality Index ranks South Korea 10th out of 160 countries, and the 2018 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap ranks South Korea 115th out of 149 countries. See link 1 and 2.
[5] Campbell, R. (2008). The psychological impact of rape victims. American Psychologist, 63(8), 702-717. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.63.8.702
[6] Testimony of Dr. Lawanda Ravoira, Director NCCD Center for Girls and Young Women, “Rape in the United States: The Chronic Failure to Report and Investigate Rape Cases” before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs, September 14, 2010.
[7] Juwon Park, Quartz, South Korea’s first big #MeToo trial left many disappointed, August 15, 2018.
[8] Agence France-Presse, South China Morning Post, Former South Korea presidential hopeful Ahn Hee-jung acquitted after aide accused him of rape, August 14, 2018.
Lee Suh-yoon, The Korea Times, #MeToo at crossroads: Protesters cry foul at acquittal of ex-governor, August 19, 2018.

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The Protect Human Rights : Stand Against Sexual Violence in South Korea petition to South Korean Supreme Court was written by Mikyoung Lee and is in the category Human Rights at GoPetition.