Celebrity rape scandals stir debate

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Celebrity rape scandals stir debate

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When comedian Yoo Sang-moo was sued in mid-May over an alleged rape charge, Korean media went to town, pouring out stories on every possible scenario. Even before police took over and started investigating the case, commentators were sure it would take years for them to see the 36-year-old back on television, as is the norm with many other celebrities here who commit any form of crime.

But 10 days after Yoo was summoned by police for questioning, another sex scandal surfaced. This time, it involved an actor-cum-boy group member who had been at the forefront of Hallyu, or the Korean Wave.

Park Yoo-chun, 30, a member of the male K-pop act JYJ, was sued by a female bar worker last month on the same rape charge. Three more women came forward with similar claims soon after, asserting the star forced them into having sex.

Just as local media started shifting their focus on Park, a news outlet broke another scandal late last month, saying actor Lee Min-ki was summoned by police in February on a rape charge. Last week, actor Lee Jin-wook was sued on the same charge.

As fans now wonder why so many male celebrities are giving Korea’s entertainment industry a bad name, many pundits interviewed by the JoongAng Ilbo stress that these issues have more to do with female empowerment.

“In the past, female victims used to think nobody would trust their side of the story,” said Lee Mi-kyeong, who heads the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center. “But now, they’re starting to raise their voices.”

Kim Mun-jo, a sociology professor of Korea University, said issues related to sex were a “cultural taboo” in Korea, which is why sexual assault and physical assault were deemed two different cases. Now, he claimed, women have grown confident enough to open up about their plights because society has gradually placed sexual assault within the realm of violence.

“After the Park Yoo-chun case arose,” said Lee Chang-moo, an industrial security professor at Chung-ang University, “women have come to realize that it was okay to talk about similar matters, and to come forward with their own cases.”

“Some sort of a learning effect has taken place encouraging women to sue famous celebrities,” Prof. Lee added.

Kimhong Miri, a lecturer at Kyonggi University who teaches about gender equality, said the recent murder case near Gangnam Station in southern Seoul, in which the male suspect claimed to have stabbed the female victim to death because he felt that women in general neglected him, was one main trigger.

After the case, female mourners swarmed the station and left post-it notes elaborating their own stories undergoing female discrimination, said Kimhong.

Through the experience, “more and more women realized they were not alone in the struggle and that the problem stemmed from a structural problem in society,” she added.

BY YOON JUNG-MIN, SEO JUN-SEOK [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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