Commission targeted for defending former Seoul mayor's secretary

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Commission targeted for defending former Seoul mayor's secretary

The National Election Commission has become the target of online criticism after concluding that the secretary of former Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, whom she accused of sexual harassment, did not violate election law by voicing her fears about the upcoming Seoul mayoral by-election at a March 17 press conference.
The day of the conference, the commission received a complaint from an individual who argued that the former secretary’s participation at a press conference –– where she spoke about supporters of the late mayor and members of his party casting doubt on her testimony –– constituted illegal political campaigning by a civil servant.
Although she is no longer in the secretarial role, the victim is still employed by the Seoul city government.
On the freewheeling online forum Ddanji Ilbo, one online commenter said that he reported the victim to the commission for violating political neutrality as a public official.
“By speaking out in order to bring down a candidate from a specific party, the participant violated the rules governing civil servants’ conduct.”
After the reviewing the complaint, the commission on March 20 concluded that the press conference did not count as illegal campaign activity.
“The press conference which was reported [to us] cannot be seen as an event where the main participant used her position as a public official to exercise undue influence on the election,” said the commission.
The press conference marked the first time the victim appeared in person before reporters.
The victim filed a complaint with the police on July 8, 2020, claiming that Park sexually harassed her for years and that her coworkers turned a blind eye to his conduct.
According to prosecutors, Park found out about the former secretary’s intention to submit a complaint a few hours before it was filed from his special adviser on gender equality. Park went missing the next day and was found dead on July 10. Police concluded he committed suicide.
After the police investigation closed due to the death of the suspect, the victim requested an investigation by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, which in January came to the conclusion that Park sexually harassed the former secretary.
Soon after the election commission issued its conclusion regarding the legality of the press conference, petitions targeting the commission were filed on the Blue House website.
“Please punish the election commission and its decision-makers who wield a double standard,” began one petition uploaded March 20.
Soo Jung Lee, a forensic psychology professor at Gyeonggi University who spoke at the press conference, argued that the virtual anger at the commission’s decision represented secondary abuse targeting the victim.
“One can describe criticism against people who support the victim, as well as against the human rights commission which accepted the truth of her claims, as a form of secondary damage,” Lee said in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo.
“Secondary damage is an attempt to force the victim to become silent. If clear regulations on this kind of behavior are not made, victims of sexual assault and harassment will not be able to speak out.”
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