South Korean Human Rights Monitor


Sexual Harassment in Korean Army Receives Light Punishment

Julie Min March 25, 2014

An army major accused of sexually harassing a female subordinate officer — which led the victim to commit suicide – was given a suspended sentence of 2 years in prison with a 4-year period of probation. Criticisms from the public rained down on the light punishment and military authority’s inconsistent attitudes throughout the process of trial.

The major was indicted last month on the charge of insulting and forcibly molesting a female captain, who was found dead on Oct. 16 after committing suicide. Captain Oh, the victim, left a note condemning the major of frequent sexual molestation and overburdening her with work every night for 10 months after Oh refused his sexual advances.

According to the Center for Military Human Rights, an internal probe by the South Korean army found that the major in question had harassed 6 other officers from June to September. He reportedly disparaged the victims’ looks and made them feel “sexually humiliated.” The human rights center strongly urged the Army to punish the accused major for his additional crimes, and to come up with measures to prevent such crimes from reoccurring.

However, the Army’s change of attitudes aroused suspicion of manipulating evidence in favor of the major. On the request of army prosecution, the court demanded the Army to submit captain Oh’s record of entry and exit in her unit. The record was considered crucial in proving the major’s abuse of authority. Last February, the Army stated that it does not hold the record anymore because it was deleted by the system. Immediately following the Army’s response, the major submitted the record of Roh’s entry and exit, which did not have as much workload as was claimed by the prosecution. This record was soon discovered to be fabricated as the bereaved family submitted real record acquired right after the death of Oh from the Army. Then the Army also submitted the original record that was identical with the one from the bereaved family.

The Army explanation for this was, “The officer in charge of the system made a mistake, and we forgot that we had backup files.”

Not only was Roh responsible for manipulating the evidence, but the Army was also suspected of destroying the evidence and disturbing the trial.

After controversial stages of accepting evidence and trial for three months, the general military court stated, “The court finds Major Roh guilty of harsh treatment, language abuse, sexual assault, and sexual harassment through physical contact. But considering that the defendant is a first-time offender, the court has decided to give a suspended sentence.”

The prosecution and the bereaved immediately decided to appeal against the ruling. They found the court’s decision to give Roh suspended sentence unacceptable given that the count admitted that Roh’s conduct caused Captain Oh’s suicide. Moreover, Roh has continuously pleaded not guilty and shown no effort to settle with the bereaved. Such conducts are far from the required conditions for a suspended sentence.

The ruling has aroused public opinion. The public criticized the punishment as a mere slap on the wrist. Some are worried that the Korean Army’s disposition of be closed and coercive will leave the future victims’ rights to be violated without redressing the injustice.

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