“I am sorry and I am so ashamed,” Ahn Hee-jung, former South Korean governor of South Chungcheong Province and one-time presidential hopeful, said Tuesday on the courthouse steps, after he was acquitted of all charges of sexually assaulting an aide by the Seoul Western District Court.
Immediately after the ruling was announced, Kim Ji-eun, Ahn’s former secretary and the plaintiff, released a statement through her lawyers. Kim attended the first trial Tuesday, but did not stand before the press afterwards. Her lawyer, Jang Yun-jung, read out the statement about the ruling instead.
“I came this far through scary, dark, and chilly nights. I was scared and terrified. The defendant’s impenitent attitude made me terribly sick and distressed,” said Kim in the statement.
The 33-year-old former secretary also pointed out inappropriate comments of the court made during the trial process. “They talked about ‘being a right victim’ and chastity in the courtroom. The verdict was already foreshown in some sense,” said Kim. “I won’t be daunted by this unfair result. I will stand firm as ever to prove Ahn Hee-jung’s criminal acts in the courtroom. I sincerely ask all of you to stand by me to the end.”
Kim Hye-jung, deputy director of the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center, said that a judge panel practically “shifted its responsibility as the judiciary onto the legislature,” rebutting the court’s argument that it is difficult to punish the defendant’s behaviors under the current laws. She also criticized the court of ruling that the defendant “had the power but it did not necessarily seem that he executed the power,” saying that “the victim lost her job and has been surrounded by distorted facts for five months. The perpetrator’s power is being executed continuously.”
The former political rising star’s acquittal has invited mixed views from women’s rights activists. “It all depends on the interpretation of how far an individual’s position or power reaches,” said attorney Lee Myeong-suk, who represents the Korean Center for Women and Children’s Right. “Unlike cases that involve the disabled, the court applied a narrow interpretation for adult women. While the judiciary argued that it needed to be resolved by the legislature, judicial precedents actually had to be changed.”
Some say that the verdict was handed out in a transition period. “The panel may have made a strict judgement in a situation where there were not many testimonies in favor of the victim,” said Shin Jin-hee, lawyer at the Korea Legal Aid Corporation. “The judiciary must have faced a limit, having to reaching a decision within the current system.”
Meanwhile, some considered the verdict to be reasonable. Noh Yeong-hee, lawyer at the Korean Bar Association, argued that the court’s decision reached according to a principle of law should be respected, noting that the plaintiff did not present “enough evidence to substantiate Ahn’s crimes, with her claims sometimes inconsistent and less reliable.”
Those in the art and literary scene, which was at the center of the #MeToo movement early this year, seemed worried in general. South Korean poet Choi Young-mi, who first revealed her experience of being sexually harassed in February, said, “I was shocked, too. I hope today’s ruling will not affect other #MeToo cases including mine.” Author and literary critic Kim Myeong-in also expressed regret, saying, “The judiciary may have abided by the principle by sticking to written laws, but the verdict is far from being forward-looking or in tune with the times. Defamation suits, backlash, and secondary damages are continuously being done in the literary scene.”