Female Army officer ruled to have died on duty

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Female Army officer ruled to have died on duty

Korean military authorities yesterday announced that they will recognize that a female officer, who took her own life last October after repeated verbal and sexual harassment by a superior officer, died while on active duty.

The 28-year-old, identified as Capt. Oh of the ROK Army 15th Division, was found dead Oct. 16 in a car in a parking lot near her unit in Hwacheon County, Gangwon. A charcoal briquette was found in the car, with the apparent cause of death being asphyxiation.

An investigation into her diary, notes and suicide letter, as well as testimonies from witnesses, indicated that Oh took her own life after being verbally and sexually harnessed at the hands of a commanding officer over a 10-month period.

Oh detailed in a suicide note left to her family that her superior, 36-year-old Maj. Noh, made sexual advances toward her and insisted she spend “one night with him.” At the time, Oh was engaged to be married and rejected his advances. Consequently, he made her work overtime and verbally and sexually harassed her for the next 10 months, reportedly making sexually suggestive remarks and touching her inappropriately.

The Center for Military Human Rights said yesterday that the military’s evaluation committee last week determined that Oh had died while on active duty. Her burial ceremony is scheduled for April 8 at the Daejeon National Cemetery. Oh’s death last year shed light into the harassment women face in the military. Maj. Noh was indicted in November on charges of sexually harassing a female captain.

In a military court ruling on March 20, however, Noh was sentenced to two years in prison with four years’ probation, which drew strong criticism from the public and her bereaved family, who claimed the punishment was a mere slap on the wrist. The sentence was much lighter than the originally demanded five-year prison term.

The court defended its ruling last month, stating that while there was evidence of the major’s severe treatment of Oh, sexually suggestive touching - such as rubbing her shoulders - and verbal abuse, it determined that the extent of it was limited. The court added that it was his first offense.

The Army was accused of trying to conceal the incident and manipulate the evidence in favor of the major, tampering with Oh’s entry and exit records into her unit. An internal military probe further found that Noh had sexually harassed at least six other female officers, including another captain, from June to September 2013.

Of those six, three have pressed charges against Noh.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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