It’s a question from Hyo-jeong, the 69-year-old protagonist of the 2019 movie “An Old Lady”. While hospitalized with a shoulder injury, she is sexually assaulted by a 29-year-old nursing assistant, but authorities disbelieve her and repeatedly reject requests for an arrest warrant. Powerless, she chooses her own path to obtain justice.
Hyo-jeong may be right to view his age as an obstacle to proving his case. But it is no easier for young women in this country to speak out when they have been sexually assaulted.
The case in point was a female Air Force non-commissioned officer identified as Lee. Her complaint against a fellow officer met with horrific and systematic attempts by her colleagues and superiors to silence her and cover up her case. She was found dead in her apartment on May 22, nearly three months after suffering trial and error and other abuse after a dinner hosted by her supervisor for her knowledge, which she was forced to attend. His death was considered suicide.
According to media reports, Lee immediately informed authorities of the sexual assault, but his report was never properly addressed. Meanwhile, the alleged assailant, a master sergeant serving in her combat wing, has threatened to kill herself unless she drops her complaint. Her father intervened, trying to persuade her to drop her complaint “for the future of her son”. They even pressured her fiance to find a compromise.
Even after the case was transferred to the Air Force prosecutor’s office on April 7, the alleged offender was never summoned once to testify for investigation before May 31. Air Force Chief of Staff Lee Seong-yong reportedly learned of the case on April 15, but despite directives requiring him to report all misconduct to the Ministry of Defense sexual abuse among personnel under his command, he took no action.
A state-appointed attorney – male instead of female, contrary to advice in the ministry handbook – made little effort to help Lee except for several phone calls and sending of SMS. He is said to have not even met Lee once for a face-to-face interview, under the guise of quarantining himself after his honeymoon. Rather, he added to her suffering by disclosing personal information about her.
Even more surprisingly, Lee Gap-sook, head of the Air Force’s Center for Gender Equality, a female civil servant, learned of the case on March 5 but failed to fulfill her obligation to report it to the ministry. of the defense. She later said in a session of the National Assembly that she did not promptly report the case, but included it in her centre’s monthly reports, as she believed it was “not important”.
Lee’s suicide was reportedly reported to the Department of Defense as “accidental death” without any cause. It was only after Lee’s family launched a public appeal on May 31, asking the ministry to investigate the death of their loved one, that they rushed through the procedures necessary to place the offender. presumed under arrest.
It is true that sex crimes within military organizations are not new. The military authorities of any country are engaged in this “invisible war”, and victims, wherever they are, fear further trauma or retaliation when they report sexual misconduct. There is a common fear that the process will be unfair or that nothing will be done in the end. Many survivors also feel that they are not sufficiently supported by their chain of command.
That said, however, the latest chaos surrounding the hapless Staff Sergeant’s case is obviously a testament to the laxity and injustice that plagues the young men of our military. It exposes their poor notion of the fundamental rights of their comrades in arms and their ilk. And, ultimately, a lack of discipline among our military personnel will jeopardize our national security.
The impact of sexual violence on the victim can be much more intense than one might imagine, whether it is a recent event or many years ago. Each survivor’s reaction is unique, but aside from physical consequences such as injury, worry about pregnancy or the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, emotional reactions can range from shock to shame, to fear. , numbness and a feeling of isolation and guilt, leading to depression and sometimes suicide.
Whether inside or outside the military, the deeply rooted, male-dominated organizational culture in our society looks leniently at male sexual misconduct towards women. Age-old, male-centered social customs easily cast a contemptuous gaze on female survivors of abuse or sexual exploitation, rather than male perpetrators.
“I was humiliated, intimidated and started to wonder if I had really made a complaint against an innocent person,” an ex-girlfriend of K-pop star Jung Joon-young said in one recent BBC report on the “continuing trauma of South Korea’s spycam victims. Speaking under the pseudonym Kyung-mi, she said,” No one was there to listen. on my side, I really wanted to die, but I couldn’t.
In 2016, she accused Jung of filming without his permission while they were having sex and of sharing the footage with his famous friends. Then, she was mocked and harassed online by social media bullies, and interrogated for hours by police and prosecutors asking sensitive questions. She said she found the secondary victimization “totally overwhelming”.
His experience is not unique. With the increase in online sex crimes around the world, and especially in Korea due to its advanced digital technology, many women or girls unwittingly fall victim to voyeurism and commercial extortion. Our society must find the legal and institutional means to better protect these victims, and not ostracize them.
Lee Kyong-hee is a former editor of the Korea Herald. She is currently the editor-in-chief of Koreana, a quarterly magazine on Korean culture and arts published by the Korea Foundation. – Ed.