A Monday press conference organized by women’s rights activists in Seoul revealed the details of allegations of sexual assault and harassment by Park Won-soon, the former mayor of Seoul. Park committed suicide last week amid rumors of the allegations.
An attorney representing a woman claiming to be Park’s former secretary told reporters Monday — the day of Park’s funeral — that he had “consistently” molested her and sent unwanted sexual messages to her mobile phone. The unnamed woman allegedly attempted to report his advances to officials in city hall but claimed that others with the power to act ignored her.
While members of the ruling leftist Democratic Party, to which Park was allied, honored his memory at a funeral on Monday, leaders of conservative opposition parties urged police not to cease investigating the claims, making the case that, if the accusations are true, the victims deserve justice. Prior to becoming mayor of Seoul — the longest-serving mayor in its history — Park gained national renown as an attorney for victims of sexual assault, becoming the first attorney to win a sexual harassment case in South Korea.
The details provided at the press conference represented the most information known about the alleged sexual assault since the Korean broadcaster SBS published a report that an anonymous “Ms. A,” had filed charges against Park with Seoul police. It is currently unclear if “Ms. A” and the woman represented in the press conference are one and the same. The day after the publication of that report, Park disappeared. Police found Park’s body a day later along with a suicide note apologizing to his family.
Attorney Kim Jae-ryon, who represented the unnamed woman at the press conference, said “Park had sexually molested his secretary using his superior rank in the Seoul Metropolitan Government,” according to South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo.
“He summoned the victim to a bed inside a room in his office,” Kim reportedly said, “and physically touched her by asking her to embrace him, and invited her to a secret chat room [on the encrypted messaging app] Telegram to constantly send her promiscuous messages and photos of him in his undergarments.”
Park also reportedly kissed a bruise on the woman’s body, sent “promiscuous text messages” including scantily clad photos of himself to the woman, and continued to speak to her in sexually charged terms for years. She reportedly documented the behavior and sought help at work, including asking for a transfer out of Park’s office, but received no support.
Kim, the attorney, also read a statement from the woman herself, who demanded a legal process to assert that what she endured was real.
“Living in Korea, a law-governed country, I wanted [him] to be judged by the law and I wanted to receive a humane apology,” she said in the statement. “The night I was questioned [by police] after summoning the courage to file the complaint, the person who damaged my dignity voluntarily let his down.”
“How should I live from now on? I’m a human being — I’m a living person. I hope that my family and I fully return to our normal lives and safety,” the woman wrote.
JoongAng Ilbo noted that police had very little room to act on the allegations against Park because he is dead, so there is no one against whom to press charges. Outside of the legal realm, however, if proven true, the accusations suggest that Seoul’s local government requires significant reforms to its human resources offices to protect women at risk of sexual harassment and assault.
Opposition leaders in the South Korean government launched what the Yonhap news agency suggested could become “an all-out campaign to press for a probe” on the sexual assault allegations on Monday, demanding answers to either clear Park’s name or bring justice to his victims.
“With Park’s death, the police were to close the case against him in his absence, but opposition lawmakers are increasing calls to get to the bottom of the allegations raised against the three-term mayor who was a lawyer defending human rights and women’s rights,” Yonhap reported, citing both members of the main opposition party, the United Future Party (UFP), and the Justice Party, a left-wing party that it described as typically friendly with the Democrats. Two members of the Justice Party reportedly refused to participate in the funeral on Monday.
UFP members, in turn, are reportedly attempting to organize an investigation through Seoul’s lawmaking body.
Park went missing last Thursday after offering his wife and daughter what the latter described as words of goodbye when filing a missing person’s report with police. The next day, police announced they had found his body and, with permission from his family, published a photo of the note he left before he died. How Park died remains unclear, though police are treating the case as a presumed suicide and officers have said no evidence of foul play has surfaced.
“I’m sorry to everyone. I thank everyone who has been with me in my life,” Park’s note read. “I remain always sorry to my family, to whom I’ve given only pain. Please cremate [my body] and scatter [the ashes] at my parent’s grave. Goodbye everyone.”