SEOUL, May 27 (Korea Bizwire) – A South Korean female navy officer was found hanged to death by her colleagues in an apparent suicide Wednesday, and revelations from an investigation into her death that she had been sexually assaulted have come to light, causing a public outcry.
In a memo found in the navy officer’s room, she expressed frustration at the way she was belittled because of her gender on the job by her superior, saying she would be ‘gone’ by the next day.
During the investigation, South Korean Military Police officers found the female navy officer confided in one of her civilian friends about an alleged sexual assault from her immediate superior.
The captain in question has since been arrested. Though he confirmed he had a sexual relationship with the navy officer who took her own life, he is said to have denied any allegations of sexual violence brought against him.
As the public mourns over the death of the female captain, criticism is mounting against both the government and the Republic of Korea Navy, which finds itself yet again in the midst of a sexual assault scandal, over their lack of action.
In a post published on Facebook on Wednesday, Korea Women’s Hot Line wrote, “In 2013, we remember the suicide of another female army officer who refused to have sex with her superior after receiving cruel and unfair treatment.”
“When sexual violence in the armed forces continues to cost the lives of the victims, what is our government doing to stop this?” the organization protested in its online post.
Seo Yeong-gyo, a member of the National Defense Committee, also penned a column in a defiant tone in which she slammed the navy over its disappointing treatment of some of its female officers, many of whom have fallen victim to sexual violence from their seniors.
“Sexual crimes targeting female military officers have more than doubled over the past five years, according to last year’s National Assembly inspection of the government offices. Last August, a human rights report also emerged indicating that even a sexual assault counselor was harassed by their senior, all of which goes to show the problem of sexual violence in the armed forces shows no sign of stopping soon,” Seo wrote.
According to statistics provided by politician Hong Il-pyo, just 3 out of 83 cases of sexual crimes against female military officials led to a sentence of imprisonment from 2010 to June of 2014.
Shocking findings from the survey conducted by the Center for Military Human Rights in Korea in 2014 showed that nearly one in five currently serving female military officers has experienced sexual harassment, while 83 percent of the victims said they keep the abuse to themselves in fear of unfair treatment and low expectations.
Previously, the Republic of Korea Navy introduced the ‘Hweshik Guardian’ policy, where one person is appointed to look after their colleagues during group dinners, widely known as ‘hweshik’, in response to growing concerns over sexual violence in the armed forces.
According to reports however, the South Chungcheong-based naval branch at the heart of the sexual assault scandal was negligent in implementing the said policy.
As newly-elected South Korean President Moon Jae-in taps the very first Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, Pee Woo-jin, her story as a former lieutenant of sending her envoy in uniform at the request of an army commander for a female solider in ‘pretty clothes’ nearly 30 years ago serves as a reminder of how deeply entrenched sexism is in the South Korean military.
Hyunsu Yim (firstname.lastname@example.org)