NATIONAL

[Newsmaker] Ex-governor’s sexual assault trial: former aides testify in favor of now-disgraced politician

By Claire Lee
  • Published : Jul 12, 2018 - 18:40
  • Updated : Jul 12, 2018 - 18:44
The latest sexual assault trial session of former South Chungcheong Provincial Gov. An Hee-jung, accused of raping his secretary, was filled with testimonies in favor of the now-disgraced politician.

One after another, the witnesses testified that An and the plaintiff had a “seemingly equal” working relationship, and that it was unlikely for An to have abused his professional authority to sexually exploit her.

Among those who testified at Wednesday’s trial session were An’s former driver whose last name is Jeong, his former chief of staff surnamed Shin, and one of his ex-secretaries, surnamed Eo, who worked alongside the plaintiff Kim Ji-eun. 

An Hee-jung (Yonhap)

“Kim interacted with ex-Gov. An in a casual and friendly manner, much more causal than how I or An’s driver would speak to our boss,” Eo said at the court.

“Once, while ex-Gov. An and all of his aides were having a work dinner, we saw Kim making jokes with him. At one point, she casually made fun of him, in a loud voice, saying something like ‘You know nothing about anything.’”

What the plaintiff says

The plaintiff, Kim, made her sexual assault accusation against An on live TV on March 5, saying that she was raped by An four times while working for him from 2017 to February this year.

She has been consistently claiming that due to the power imbalance between the two -- An being a powerful politician and her superior at work -- it was impossible to reject his advances.

“I was never able to question him on anything,” she said during the TV interview in March. “I always had to obey him.”

An, on the contrary, has been claiming that his relationship with Kim was “romantic” and consensual. He is married with two children.

An has been charged by the prosecution for violating Article 303 of the Korean Criminal Code -- officially named “sexual intercourse by abuse of occupational authority,” among others.

Legal experts say the ongoing case will be remembered as an important one, regardless of the verdict, as it is rare for the prosecution to charge anyone with Article 303 of the Criminal Code -- unless the victim is proven to be someone who cannot physically resist sexual violence.

“It is rare because it is hard for the prosecution to prove that there was an abuse of professional authority, a type of abuse that did not take a physical form,” said Chun Jung-ah, a Seoul-based lawyer who has defended many victims of sexual violence.

“Many usually get charged with rape (Article 297) or indecent act by compulsion (Article 298). This case is important because its result will affect many sexual assault cases in the future, especially those that involve power abuse at the workplace.”

During the trial session on Wednesday, An’s former aides stressed that he was a leader who was always respectful of others, rather than authoritative, including those who worked for him.

“He would very often make jokes with his aides and repeatedly apologize to me whenever he was unable to arrive on time,” said Jeong, who worked as An‘s driver.

Such testimonies and portrayal of An are very different from the accusations made by those who worked for An’s campaign during last year’s presidential election primary at the Democratic Party. At the primary last year, An finished behind President Moon Jae-in.

According to those who worked for An’s primary race, sexual and physical violence was “rampant” in An’s campaign office, and that the work culture there was “not democratic at all.” They said this in a statement released anonymously, shortly after Kim’s televised interview in March. 

"She's not a child" rhetoric

An has been insisting on his innocence. In a previous trial session, An, through his lawyer, said that it is impossible to abuse one’s authority over “smart and independent women” at work, including Kim.

“Kim is not a child, nor a person with disability,” An’s lawyer said during the trial session held on July 2.

“She is a highly-educated, independent and smart woman. It would be incorrect to say she was in a situation where she could not make her own decisions and choices.”

“It’s very concerning to see An making an argument that says physical resistance is the only way for all victims to prove that a rape occurred,” Lee Soo-yeon, a researcher at Korean Women’s Development Institute, told The Korea Herald.

“Power takes many different forms, and it can be abused against all sorts of people.”

Min Joo-won, An’s wife, is scheduled to testify at Friday’s trial.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)