The Justice Party leader Kim Jong-cheol (Yonhap)
The head of a minor progressive opposition party was removed from his post on Monday over sexual harassment, marking the first time the leader of a political party in South Korea has stepped down due to sexual misconduct.
The Justice Party -- which has been a strong advocate on gender equality issues -- has pledged to deal with this issue according to the principle of zero tolerance.
On Monday Bae Bok-joo, head of the Justice Party’s gender human rights division, officially disclosed leader Kim Jong-cheol’s departure at an emergency press conference at the National Assembly.
Bae said the party immediately removed Kim from his post after finding out he had sexually harassed Rep. Jang Hye-young. Kim admitted to his actions, Bae said, and the Justice Party decided not to take further legal action.
According to the Justice Party, Kim had a meeting with Jang at a restaurant in Yeouido, Seoul, Jan. 15, and sexually harassed her while coming out of the restaurant after the meeting. Three days later Jang informed the party’s gender human rights division, which then conducted a closed-door investigation for a week.
Bae said, “We conducted an investigation through several interviews with the victim and the perpetrator,” adding, “(We found that) this is an obvious case that has no room for dispute.”
The Justice Party reported the incident at a party meeting earlier in the day. In accordance with the party rules, Kim was suspended from duty until a disciplinary decision was made. Kim is said to have expressed his intention to resign before the decision was made.
Bae said, “We will treat the perpetrator at the highest level the party can, on the principle of zero tolerance. We will ensure that secondary damage does not occur and strictly punish those who create sympathy for the perpetrator.”
The Justice Party decided not to take legal action based on the victim’s wishes. “We will make efforts to resolve the issue at the party level,” Bae said.
Also on Monday, Kim released a statement, saying, “It was an indefensible act,” adding, “I deeply apologize to the public and party members.”
“I committed an apparent sexual harassment by engaging in inappropriate physical contact that the victim did not want and did not agree with at all,” he said in the statement.
He added, “The victim complained about my harassment, and I apologized afterwards, but as a representative of the public party, it was impossible to pass on.”
He said he would resign from his post as party leader, undergo education on preventing sexual harassment and sexual violence, and accept severe disciplinary action from the party in line with a complaint with the Justice Party’s current committee.
Kim, who took office in October last year, entered politics as a secretary to Kwon Young-gil, chairman of the People’s Victory 21, the predecessor of the Democratic Labor Party.
After joining the Justice Party, he served as chief of staff to the late party representative Roh Hoe-chan and former representative Yoon So-ha, and also served as a senior spokesman.
By Shin Ji-hye (firstname.lastname@example.org)