A high court on Friday sentenced former South Chungcheong Province Gov. An Hee-jung to 3 1/2 years in prison for raping his female aide, overturning a lower court’s not-guilty ruling, in the country’s highest-profile case amid the ongoing #MeToo movement.
The Seoul High Court ruled that An, who was once considered a strong presidential contender, had used his authority to sexually assault the victim, citing sufficient evidence to prove that Kim’s sexual freedom was violated against her will.
An, 53, used the vulnerable position of Kim -- who was An’s secretary -- as a subordinate to sexually assault her repeatedly from August 2017 to February last year, the court said, acknowledging nine out of 10 charges filed against him.
A lower court had found An not guilty of sexual abuse, sexual intercourse by abuse of authority and other charges, citing a lack of evidence proving he violated Kim’s sexual freedom. The court also said the victim’s testimony was not credible enough.
Kim said she had been unable to resist her boss out of fear that she might lose her job.
An’s defense team had dismissed Kim’s testimony as not credible, claiming Kim had not acted like a victim after sexual intercourse between An and Kim took place. An’s lawyer said Kim had acted normally, citing that she seemed OK afterward and had appeared friendly to An in text messages.
The high court rejected the claims, calling it a “prejudiced” perspective.
“I would like to thank the judiciary for judging the truth as it is,” Kim said in a statement. “It (the ruling) means a good-bye to the painful past in which I had to live as a witch on fire at the stake.”
The high court also ordered An to undergo a sexual violence treatment program for 40 hours and banned him from being employed at workplaces related to children and adolescents for the next five years.
An was immediately taken to a detention facility. Asked whether he wanted to make any comments at the end of the trial, the former governor, who had kept his eyes closed, said, “No.”
An had stepped down as governor and halted his political activities after Kim accused him of rape. He had apologized to Kim and said he is “morally, politically and socially responsible.” However, he had denied legal responsibility, saying the sex was consensual.
A group of women’s rights campaigners supporting the victim has welcomed the verdict.
“It should be an alert to offenders who commit sexual crimes using their status, authority and force at work,” they said in a statement, calling the ruling the result of “common sense.”
“Now, it is time for society to question the structure gripped by offender-centered force and such culture in response to the #MeToo movement,” they said.
The not-guilty verdict by the lower court had prompted anger among women’s rights activists, who criticized the ruling for defining the abuse of power at work too narrowly and strictly. They also took issue with the country’s male-dominant justice system and claimed verdicts favored men in sexual abuse cases.
The #MeToo movement swept South Korea last year after Seoul prosecutor Seo Ji-hyeon revealed she had suffered sexual abuse by her superior, in a television interview.
Her move led more women, including Kim, to come forward as victims and share their experiences of sexual abuse by powerful figures in many sectors from politics to education to entertainment and sports.
By Ock Hyun-ju (email@example.com