Tue, Jul 31, 2018 - Page 6 News List

FEATURE: Rape victims struggle for justice

TRUTH A CRIME:In South Korea, telling the truth can be a criminal offense if it is deemed to have tarnished the accused’s reputation. Alleged rapists and others have been using the law to deter charges


Seo Hye-jin, a lawyer with the Korean Women Lawyers Association, speaks during an interview in Seoul on March 5.

Photo: AFP

As soon as the Seoul office worker told police she had been raped, her attacker struck back with a barrage of complaints against her under South Korea’s criminal defamation law, which states that truth is not necessarily a defense.

“He kept filing complaints against me non-stop, accusing me of defamation, insult, perjury, intimidation and even sexual harassment,” said the woman, who asked to be identified only as “D” for fear of her personal safety.

“For months, I couldn’t eat,” she said. “I couldn’t drink. I couldn’t sleep. I felt like I was trapped in a swamp I could never escape.”

The man was later convicted of rape and sentenced to two years in prison, while all the accusations against D were dismissed.

However, the legal quagmire she faced is not rare in South Korea, where defamation laws make libel a crime and stating the truth can still be an offence if it is deemed to have tarnished others’ social reputation.

A growing number of alleged sex abusers are seeking to use legal actions of their own to force victims into silence or into dropping their accusations.

Filing a report to police is not of itself grounds for a defamation action, but if a rape victim goes public with their allegations a criminal complaint can be filed against them. If the sexual assault case is later dropped by police or prosecutors, or the accused is acquitted, the victim can be pursued for false accusations.

That creates fertile ground for so-called “revenge accusations” by alleged abusers, driving many women into silence, say legal experts and women’s groups.

“The whole system has a chilling effect on women,” said Seo Hye-jin of the Korean Women Lawyers Association. “Many abusers openly use the threats of lawsuits as an intimidation tactic, saying: ‘I’ll drop the false accusation and defamation suits against you if you drop the sex abuse complaint against me.’”

Despite South Korea’s technological and economic advances, patriarchal values endure in its society, and it is regularly at the bottom of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development rankings for the gender pay gap or female presence in senior corporate roles.

It has an unusually high proportion of female murder victims at 52 percent, according to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime. That is far above the US and China, both about 22 percent, and even higher than the 41 percent for India, which is often in the spotlight over violence against women.

South Korea’s wildly popular TV dramas regularly depict in a romantic light male leads physically dominating female characters to manifest their love — a cliche criticized as a “K-drama wrist grab” by overseas fans.

However, since last year, the #MeToo movement against the abuse of women has swept the South, with a growing number of women coming forward to accuse powerful figures in fields from politics and the arts to education and religion.

In D’s case, an investigating police officer repeatedly asked about her “ulterior motive” for “trying to destroy a promising young man’s life,” and formally urged prosecutors not to charge her rapist.

D quit her job and filed complaints to police, prosecutors and even a state rights watchdog to reverse the decision — while dealing with a flurry of criminal accusations by her rapist and relentless bullying by him and his friends.

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