world politics

Sexual Harassment Allegations Against Seoul's Late Mayor Made Public

Through representatives, the late Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon's secretary speaks out: "I hoped to forgive him... and receive a humane apology."
July 13, 2020, 12:24pm
seoul mayor victim presser
Representatives of the former secretary of the late Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon disclose allegations of sexual harassment filed against the mayor the day before he died. Photo courtesy of Korea Women's Hotline

Following the funeral this morning of Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, who died in an apparent suicide last week, representatives of his former secretary convened a press conference to disclose accusations that he had sexually harassed her over the course of four years.

The woman, who was not identified, didn't attend the press conference, but was represented by her lawyer and supporters from the Korea Women's Hotline and the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center.

According to her representatives, the woman was invited by Park to join a secret Telegram chat where he allegedly sent obscene text messages and photos of himself in his underwear. She also accused him of inappropriately touching her and making sexually charged requests.

"Park asked her to take a selfie together for [having fun at] work and drew his body close to her," said the woman's lawyer, Kim Jae-ryon. "Park also saw her bruised knee and put his lips on her knee, and [even] called her into the bedroom in his office, asking her to hug him."

The existence of a sexual harassment complaint against Park only came to light after his body was found in the wee hours of Friday morning.

The alleged victim spoke with a lawyer on May 12 for the first time, and offered testimony accusing Park of violating the Act On Special Cases Concerning the Punishment, ETC. Of Sexual Crimes on July 8, one day before he was reported missing by his daughter.

Lee Mi-kyoung, a director of the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center who was among those presenting the woman's statement, said the secretary had asked for help from the Seoul City government, but was ignored and told that Park was "not that kind of person, it's part of a secretary's job to emotionally support the mayor, and trivialize her damage."

The woman had also shared her experiences with a reporter, a colleague, and friends, with her lawyer showing a screenshot of Telegram chats as evidence.

She maintained that the harassment had continued even after she was transferred to another division. Her representatives, meanwhile, emphasized that the Park's case was typical in the power hierarchy of South Korean workplaces.

In her statement, the woman said that all she wanted was "to be protected by the fair and equal law, and to shout at him not to behave like that and cry out that I'm in pain, within a safe court."

"I hoped to forgive him. I wanted him to be judged by law in South Korea, which is a law-governed country, and to receive a humane apology," she added.

That quest for justice, however, was abruptly cut short by her former boss' death. Under South Korean law, the case against Park, 64, is expected to die with him.

The secretary, meanwhile, has now suffered a secondary victimization in real life and online, her representatives said, calling on police and the city government to continue probing the case, regardless of Park's death.

Park, a former activist and human rights lawyer, had portrayed himself as a feminist and a supporter of the #Metoo movement, and had advocated for women's rights for decades.

Find Junhyup Kwon on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.