Since early last year, South Korean women have started their own #MeToo movement, alleging abuse by prominent men — politicians, prosecutors, theater directors, athletic coaches.
Last Friday — in a boon for the movement — a former presidential contender was found guilty of sexual abuse charges brought on by one of those allegations. Seoul’s High Court sentenced the onetime political star An Hee-jung to 3 ½ years in prison on charges of repeatedly raping a female aide.
That followed a setback in August, when An, the highest-profile South Korean figure to be publicly accused of a sex crime, was cleared of all charges in the first trial in August.
An’s former secretary Kim Ji-eun, publicly accused her boss of sexual assault in a tearful interview on national television. Kim’s message was met with women showing support and sharing similar stories, much like in the American#MeToo movement, while skeptics on social media questioned the credibility of her allegations.
In her statement following the verdict, she continued: “I would like to share the support I received with numerous other victims who still have to prove themselves on their own.”
In Friday’s verdict, the appeals court found An guilty on multiple counts of “sexual intercourse by abuse of authority” and other charges. A lower court had previously acquitted An, citing lack of evidence that the alleged victim was forced into nonconsensual intercourse by his supervisory power.
Women’s rights groups that had rallied behind Kim against An’s acquittal, welcomed the overturned ruling. “Women stood together for Kim to challenge the widespread threat of abuse against women in the society. Their voices were also noticed by the judiciary and led to a moment of victory for the #MeToo movement in South Korea,” said Yoon-Kim Ji-yeong of the Institute of Body and Culture at Konkuk University in Seoul.
Hours before Kim came forward with her allegations, An himself had expressed support for the #MeToo movement, calling it “one of the last remaining human rights stands.” An denied Kim’s allegations and argued throughout the trial process that his relationship with her was consensual.
Shortly after the accusations came to light, An resigned as governor of South Chungcheong province and was kicked out of the ruling Democratic Party. An, who was a runner-up to current President Moon Jae-in, became the first high-profile politician to be jailed in South Korea’s #MeToo reckoning.