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Justice Ministry launches sexual harassment prevention committee

The Justice Ministry launched a sexual harassment prevention committee Friday, amid public outrage triggered by a female prosecutor’s revelation of sexual misconduct by a former Justice Ministry official.

The newly established committee will investigate sex crimes that occurred at the Ministry of Justice and affiliated organizations, and come up with measures to prevent further occurrences. The prosecution, which has launched its own investigation team, will not be subjected to the ministry’s probe.

“The ministry will fully support the work of the committee and actively adopt measures recommended by the group,” Justice Minister Park Sang-ki said at a press conference announcing the creation of the committee.

Justice Minister Park Sang-ki (Yonhap)
Justice Minister Park Sang-ki (Yonhap)

Kwon In-sook, president of Korean Women’s Development Institute, has been appointed to lead the committee. Kwon, an expert in women’s rights and human rights, is also a sexual assault victim: She was sexually assaulted during police interrogation in 1986 over her labor activism while a student at Seoul National University.

“I am aware of the social responsibility the committee carries, and I will make sure to stand in the victim’s position in making any decisions,” Kwon said.

In a television news interview Monday, Seo Ji-hyun, a public prosecutor, said she was sexually harassed in front of many colleagues by a former senior Justice Ministry official, Ahn Tae-geun, at a funeral in 2010, sparking public furor.

During the press briefing, Justice Minister Park also apologized for not taking action on Seo’s sexual harassment report.

Seo said that she had reported the case to Park last year via email, but that he did not take proper measures to punish Ahn.

Park initially denied that he had received such a report, but changed his position after Seo disclosed records of the emails they exchanged in 2017 to the media.

“I know our efforts and slow actions after the story was revealed would have disappointed the public. And I apologize for creating the confusion over the email incident (with Seo),” Park said.

He also said any kind of criticism, attacks or offensive comments against women are not acceptable and that he would make utmost efforts to prevent secondary damage.

After Seo’s disclosure on Monday, voices of support have surged and many others, including prosecutors and lawmakers, have exposed their experiences of sexual harassment.

First-term lawmaker Rep. Lee Jae-jung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea said on a local radio interview on Friday that she was sexually mistreated by a law firm president when she was looking for a job as a lawyer 13 years ago.

She wrote a Facebook post on Tuesday which read, “What I could not do when I was a lawyer, and what I hesitate to do now even as a lawmaker ... but #MeToo and #WithYou,” indicating she had similar experiences as Seo. 

By Jo He-rim (