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Ministry inspected 2% of 2,600+ sexual abuse cases in public sectors

By Choi Jeong-yoon

Published : Dec. 26, 2023 - 16:05

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Over 2,600 cases of sexual violence and harassment were reported in public organizations nationwide over the past two years, with the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family responding to just over 50 cases for on-site inspection, the ministry's data showed Tuesday.

Some 18,000 government offices, institutions and schools recorded 2,620 cases of sexual abuse from July 2021 until June this year, according to data provided by the ministry to Rep. Yangyi Won-young of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea.

However, the Gender Ministry conducted only 53 on-site inspections, acting on a mere 2 percent of the reported cases.

As elementary, middle and high schools and universities account for 70 percent of all public institutions in the country, education sectors took up a large proportion of the cases, recording 2,084 cases of sexual harassment and violence over the past two years. Only 15 on-site inspections were carried out by the ministry, marking 0.7 percent of the cases that occurred in schools.

Under the Enforcement Decree of the Sexual Violence Prevention and Victims Protection Act, revised in July 2021, public institutions must notify incidents of sexual violation to the Gender Ministry, once they acknowledge an occurrence of sexual harassment or abuse committed by or against public officials.

The institution must, by law, submit measures to prevent the recurrence of related incidents within three months.

Once notified, the ministry can request an on-site inspection in consideration of the details and scale of the case, and demand changes and improvements in how the incident is handled.

The Gender Ministry pointed to a lack of manpower as an explanation for its inaction.

"We were unable to inspect all cases because we operate within a limited budget," a ministry official said. "It is difficult to recruit more people at the moment, so we plan to keep the number of inspectors at four," the official added.

Since the implementation of the decree, only four government officials in the Gender Ministry have been designated as responsible for conducting on-site inspections. There are experts outside the ministry, such as lawyers and certified labor attorneys, but there are not enough to handle more than 1,000 cases of sexual abuse occurring every year.

"The 50 cases we conducted inspections on were cases in which we obtained the consent of the victims, while meeting the criteria of the ministry, such as cases that garnered great public attention, had a large number of victims, or cases where there was a reoccurrence of sexual violence due to a lack of proper counter measures," the ministry official explained further.

Rep. Yangyi condemned the ministry for its passive approach.

"Two years have passed since the related law was enacted. While social attention on the issues of sexual violence in public institutions is growing, the response of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family has remained stagnant," said the lawmaker, adding, "The ministry has failed to fulfill its duty to protect victims of violence."