ELIZABETH SOELISTIO WRITES — Ahn Hee Jung, a 53-year-old politician and former rising star of South Korea’s Democratic, party was acquitted August 14 on charges of raping his female secretary, Kim Ji Eun. The controversial verdict sparked massive debates on the topics of justice, sexual hierarchies and the power wielded by influential South Korean men.
Kim revealed the traumatic story during a JTBC news program on March 5. She revealed how Ahn had raped her four times since she started working for him earlier this year and had sexually harassed her on numerous other occasions. According to the Washington Post, during the TV interview the alleged victim remembered that “He [Ahn Hee Jung] called me in recently and brought up the #MeToo movement. So I thought he wouldn’t do it [rape me] that day. But he did it [again], even on that day.” Ahn allegedly apologized to Kim over a messaging app, telling her to “forget everything” he did and “just remember the beautiful scenery of Switzerland and Russia.”
In fact, Ahn Hee Jung, the former governor of South Chungcheong province and a possible candidate for president in 2022, retired from politics amidst these charges of sexual abuse and abuse of authority, among other charges by the Seoul Western District Court. Furthermore, the leader of the Democratic Party, Choo Mi Ae, condemned Ahn and publically apologized to the victim, as well as the country, saying, “An unacceptable incident has happened.” Kim Hye Jung, vice director of the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center (KSVRC) said, “I don’t see how the court could rule against the victim. The accused even admitted to the crime first before he changed his testimony.”
And yet, the court dismissed the charges due to insufficient evidence that Ahn used his authority to force Kim into sex, saying there was “not enough to prove that the victim’s sexual freedom was violated against her will.”
Worse, Ahn’s acquittal came despite his admission on his Facebook page, saying, “My office’s statement, (asserting) it was a consensual sexual relationship, was wrong. This is all my fault.”
With South Korea growing into the #MeToo movement, women’s rights activists see the court ruling as a setback in the protection of women’s rights. They may also see it as a case of justice that favors the rich and powerful, with bias against women who claim sexual abuse, so that, unlike Kim, victims are often discouraged to come forward.
Looks like the Court’s verdict was one step backward in South Korea’s long march toward women’s equality.