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[Newsmaker] Gender Equality Ministry hid internal sexual harassment case, lawmaker claims

Revelation adds support to calls for abolishing Gender Equality Ministry

By Ko Jun-tae

Published : April 28, 2022 - 14:13

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Rep. Ha Tae-keung of the People Power Party answers questions from reporters following a press conference held at the National Assembly on Thursday. (Ko Jun-tae/The Korea Herald) Rep. Ha Tae-keung of the People Power Party answers questions from reporters following a press conference held at the National Assembly on Thursday. (Ko Jun-tae/The Korea Herald)
The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family deliberately hid an internal sexual harassment case and went against the guidelines the ministry made for state-run agencies in preventing sexual crimes from being hidden or left unpunished, a lawmaker claimed Thursday.

The revelation adds fuel to the voice demanding abolition of the Gender Equality Ministry amid growing gender divide as promised by President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol during the presidential race.

According to reports obtained by Rep. Ha Tae-keung of the People Power Party, the Gender Equality Ministry in the past conducted an internal inspection on a sexual abuse case between two ministry employees. The reports show that the perpetrator carried out acts of sexual harassment including hugging the victim against his or her will.

Exact details of the case, including when and where what happened, could not be made available out of concern for the victim’s privacy.

Ha said the ministry went against its self-made manual to carry out an internal inspection without bringing in any outside experts, later levying only a minimal penalization to the perpetrator by requiring a written statement of apology.

The manual written by the ministry dictates that an internal sexual harassment and assault cases are to be inspected independently from the organization by outside experts, as organizational hierarchy could jeopardize fair and honest investigation into cases.

The ministry replied to Ha’s requests for comment that the inspection only turned internal and against the guideline due to the victim’s request for stoppage, but Ha argued that the ministry broke its guideline even then, as the manual dictates the inspection stops immediately if the victim requests the inspection to halt.

The lawmaker argued that the ministry essentially ran an unofficial special inspection and went against the wishes of the victim, accusing the ministry of possibly carrying out efforts to hide or distort the facts that might have been uncovered in responding to the case.

The victim in the case later resigned from their post after the perpetrator, who was assigned to the sexual violence prevention unit inside the ministry months later, was given only light punishment. The ministry also gave early promotion to the perpetrator, who starred in a sexual violence prevention campaign video made by ministry staff.

“The government agency, which should serve as an example in responding to sexual harassment and sexual violence cases, has essentially used loopholes to hide its faults in fear of being ashamed by using loopholes,” Ha told reporters Thursday.

“We can’t help but doubt whether the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family is suitable to orchestrate protective measures for women and run sexual violence prevention programs for other agencies.”

The ministry responded later in the day that it has never attempted to hide or distort any information on the case, adding it worked to stay within its guidelines.

The Gender Equality Ministry has previously come under fire for allegations that it aligned with those in power rather than working to protect women and standing up for their rights.

The ministry stayed silent on sexual misconduct allegations against officials with the Moon Jae-in administration. A growing divide and conflict between men and women also drew many to oppose the ministry and its works to provide more policy support for women.