Bae Bok-joo, deputy head of the Justice Party, gives a public apology regarding sexual harassment charges surrounding party leader Kim Jong-cheol. (Kang Chang-kwang, staff photographer)
Kim Jong-cheol was dismissed from his position as head of South Korea’s Justice Party on Jan. 25 after sexually harassing a lawmaker from his own party. Kim had taken over the party in October 2020.
Kim’s dismissal tarnishes the moral stance taken by the Justice Party, which has been an ardent critic of sexual misconduct not only among politicians and high office holders, but in South Korean society as a whole. The revelation of sexual misconduct by a governor and two mayors of the ruling Democratic Party and now by the head of progressive party have been deeply traumatic for the country’s liberal and progressive establishments.
“I’m here to bring you some very embarrassing and terrible news,” said Bae Bok-joo, deputy head of the Justice Party and chair of its gender and human rights task force, during an emergency press conference, held at the National Assembly at 10 am on Jan. 25.
“Kim Jong-cheol sexually harassed Jang Hye-young after they were leaving a restaurant in Yeouido where they had a work-related dinner on the evening of Jan. 15,” Bae said.
Jang Hye-young is a lawmaker for the Justice Party.
Kim admitted what he’d done and expressed his willingness to resign, but the Justice Party’s leaders decided on Jan. 25 to dismiss Kim from his position.
“After receiving a request from the victim on Jan. 18, we carried out an internal investigation of the incident for a week. The final report was made to party leaders in a meeting today,” Bae said.
Given the severity of an incident of misconduct carried out by none other than the party leader himself, we discussed the matter with gravity and swiftly reached a decision.”
On Jan. 25, the Justice Party asked its disciplinary board to review Kim’s case. In line with Jang’s wishes, the party doesn’t intend to press criminal charges against him.
“It was very painful and shocking for my dignity as a human being of equal standing to be damaged by the party leader whom I’d profoundly trusted, the political colleague who had joined me in calling for the eradication of gender violence,” Jang said in a position statement on the morning of Jan. 25.
“Anyone can become the perpetrator of sexual violence at the instant when they fail to treat a fellow citizen with the dignity they deserve. We need to figure out why even seemingly respectable men repeatedly, and so horribly, fail to treat the women around them with that dignity.”
Kim owned up to his actions in a position statement of his own on Jan. 25.
“I made inappropriate physical contact with the victim [after dinner on the evening of Jan. 15], contact that was completely unwanted and completely nonconsensual. In so doing, I committed a clear act of sexual harassment. I have no excuse for my behavior, which caused great pain to the victim.”
“As the head of a party that has sworn to eradicate sexual harassment and sexual assault, my behavior is unacceptable. I ask for severe punishment from the Justice Party’s board of directors and its disciplinary board.”
For the time being, Kim Yun-gi, deputy head of the Justice Party, will serve as its acting head.
Jung Hwan-bong and Lee Ji-hye, staff reporters
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