Just How Common Is Sexual Harassment In The Workplace In South Korea?

Secretaries speak up after the Park Won Soon incident.

On the 9th of July, Park Won Soon, then the mayor of Seoul, had been reported missing. The following morning, his body was found and pronounced to have passed on. Many have speculated that this is due to the accusations of sexual harassment made against him by his former secretary.

Park Won Soon | TIME

After the Park Won Soon incident came to light, how has the parliament offices differed? Ms. A, who works at the National Assembly recalled that while some have become more careful towards the secretaries, some of the higher-ups have simply dismissed the incident as a joke.

The National Assembly | Korea Times

One secretary revealed that after the Park Won Soon incident came to light, her in-charge had told her while laughing, to come to him if she had any displeasures, rather than try to kill him later on.

If you were upset by anything I did, tell me now. Don’t try to kill me…

— Secretary to National Assembly member, Ms. A

Some advisors have also apparently said that this was one of the reasons why women should not be chosen to work in the assembly. Others have tried to question, why the secretary involved in the Park Won Soon case held it in for 4 years before speaking up.

A typical outfit as envisioned for a secretary. | What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim

Some have also spoken up with regards to the sexualization of certain jobs, such as secretaries, nurses and flight attendants.

Even in the drama, What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim, the clothes Park Min Young wears are all what people envision as the typical attire for secretaries – tight clothing. This image and sexualization seems only to apply to certain jobs like secretaries, flight attendants and nurses.

— Secretary at a large law firm, Ms. B

A look at the uniform for Korean Air | Korean Air

Ms. B also furthered that many of the lawyers and judges who rule against sexual offenders, and know the law better than anyone else, are often those who practice sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace themselves. While working at the law firm, she experienced being ogled by male co-workers and higher-ups, as well as having them invade her personal space physically.

I saw an incident where a higher-up had asked his secretary, what she thought of him as a boyfriend with such an age difference.

— Secretary at a large law firm, Ms. B

Citizens paying their respects to the former mayor | Yonhap News

Unfortunately, sexual harassment is not limited to one’s direct workplace. Often, it involves outside employees and business partners as well. Ms. A worked in the elections office, and various candidates that come in for visits would tell other candidates that they had “a good choice in a lover”, referring to their secretaries.

How is it looking for society? Sad to say, there may not be much change. A former governor of the Chungnam Province in South Korea, Ahn Hee Jung was also pronounced innocent in a trial that accused him of sexual assault despite three of his former secretaries speaking up against him.


Source: Joongang Daily