South Korean public prosecutor sparks country’s #Metoo moment with allegations of groping

A South Korean public prosecutor appears to have ignited the global #MeToo movement in South Korea after going public with allegations that she was groped by a senior official and then demoted when she complained.

Seo Ji-hyeon’s story may be a turning point for the #MeToo campaign in the socially conservative society where misogyny is said to be frequent, but often ignored, in the workplace.

In a televised interview with JTBC Newsroom and a posting on a professional internet forum, she described her horror at being publicly groped by former senior Ministry of Justice prosecutor, Ahn Tae-geun, at a funeral in 2010.

Ms Seo said she had immediately raised the issue with her superiors, who tried to obtain an apology from Mr Ahn, but that she never heard from him.  

Instead, she was subsequently criticised about her professional expertise in an audit, disciplined by the prosecutor general and then unexpectedly transferred to an unwanted regional posting in the remote fishing village of Tongyeong.

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Ms Seo, who claimed her case was covered up within the Justice Ministry, described her shock at the transfer to a more junior posting, despite her 15 years of experience and having won two high-profile professional awards.

When contacted by the press, Mr Ahn said: “It happened so long ago, and I had drunk a lot before, so I don’t remember it, but if such an act happened, then I sincerely apologise,” reported the Joongang Daily.

South Korea’s current prosecutor-general pledged to investigate Ms Seo’s allegations, while the Justice Ministry denied any lapses in its appointment procedure, adding that it would be difficult to judge her case give the time lapse.

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Ms Seo said she had gone public to encourage other victims to speak out. “I want to tell victims of sexual assault, it’s not your fault,” she said.

Last year a shocking study by the Korean Institute of Criminology, based on responses from 2000 South Korean men, showed that 79.7% had physically or psychologically abused a girlfriend while they were dating.

However, South Korean women are increasingly breaking their silence. Following a slew of complaints last year of workplace harassment, gender-equality laws were amended to improve protection for victims.

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