Society slowly starting to change after Me Too

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Society slowly starting to change after Me Too


Months have passed since prosecutor Seo Ji-hyeon appeared on a local evening news program to reveal she was groped by a superior at a funeral in 2010. The interview, carried by cable channel JTBC on Jan. 31, was a watershed moment in Korea’s Me Too movement, leading to scores of women from various sectors of society coming forward to tell their stories of sexual harassment, some recalled from over a decade ago.

In assessing just how far this male-dominated society has changed since then, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea says more women have definitely spoken out and that the workforce seems to be adapting to the flood of accusations.

From January to March this year, 231 cases of sexual harassment were reported to the commission’s helpline, up 33 percent from 174 cases during the same period last year. Lee Su-yeon from the commission’s Anti-Discrimination Bureau explained that each investigator at her agency has been handling more than 150 different petitions related to sexual assault over the past three months, far more than last year when they used to pick up less than 100.

One of the biggest improvements to Korea’s workforce since the Me Too movement broke out, says an official from the National Human Rights Commission, is that companies are finally taking disciplinary action against perpetrators instead of trying to bury incidents and reports.

“In the past, when we issued a formal recommendation to schools or companies to advise them to penalize sexual offenders,” said the source, “a lot of places objected and took the case to the administrative court. These days, we frequently see them punishing their employees soon after we raise a sexual assault case and ask them for documents.”

For 26-year-old Park, a third-year employee at a conglomerate who wished to be identified only by her surname, the biggest change is felt in the after-work drinking parties with her superiors. “They used to force me to serve alcohol to them, and they’d make racy jokes or comment about my looks,” said Park. “When I expressed dismay, they said they were simply showing affection because I looked like their daughter.”

After the Me Too movement broke out, Park says her company distributed a behavioral manual, which forced male employees to restrain from inappropriate behavior.

Ha Mi-na, 55, a public servant, is also noticing a change. “Three to four years ago, I used to hear a lot of sexual comments from my superiors at work, but I’d helplessly let them go because there wasn’t anything I could do about it,” says Ha. “Most of the dirty talk is gone now. I think it’s really crucial that it stays this way.”

Looking back, a 24-year-old college student in Seoul who recently came forward with accusations that her professor sexually harassed her classmates says her goal wasn’t punishment, but a warning to others that he wasn’t safe to be around.

“I wanted to inform other students to watch out,” she said on the condition of anonymity. Watching the professor groping his students’ waist and thighs, “I felt like it was my role to tell others to stay away from him because nobody told me that.”

Kim Jae-ryeon, prosecutor Seo Ji-hyeon’s attorney, echoed the whistleblower’s statement.

“One thing victims generally say the most is that they don’t want to see other people going through the same pain,” says Kim. “It’s not that they have to see pain inflicted on the perpetrator or his or her family.”

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