Guaranteeing Labor Rights: Expanding the Scope of Damages Caused by Sexual Violence

Choi Min-jee, Oh Gyeong-min 2021. 1. 27. 17:43
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On the morning of January 25, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea held a second plenary session for the investigation of sexual assault allegations of the late Park Won-soon, former mayor of Seoul. This morning, members of a group seeking joint action against the sexual violence by the mayor of Seoul hold a press conference in front of the Human Rights Commission in Seoul and shout slogans. Yonhap News

“An issue that requires a more aggressive response in terms of labor rights as well as sexual harassment.” “The perspective from which sexual harassment is viewed should be changed from ‘the level and frequency of sexual words and actions’ to ‘the impact on the employment environment.’” This is the conclusion that the National Human Rights Commission of Korea reached as it determined that the alleged sexual misconduct by the late Park Won-soon, former mayor of Seoul, was sexual harassment on January 25. The investigation by the Human Rights Commission verified the true nature of the sexual violence that law enforcement agencies failed to disclose and expanded our awareness by seeing the victim as a worker, whose right to continue working should be guaranteed.

Sexual violence has mainly been treated as a violation of one’s right to sexual self-determination. Despite that sexual violence in the workplace eventually led to the loss of one’s right to labor, this aspect was hardly ever illuminated.

Victims have constantly spoken of their identity as a worker. At a press conference on January 25, A, the sexual harassment victim of former Mayor Park, said, “I wanted to hide everything because of my safety, my self-esteem and my career.” She further said, “I actively engaged in all situations concerning the affairs of the mayor’s office, simply because I wanted to complete the social tasks assigned to me.” The book, I Am Kim Ji-eun, published last year by Kim Ji-eun--the rape victim of former governor of Chungcheongnam-do Ahn Hee-jung--is a record of a worker, who quietly worked as a secretary.

There are several problems behind the reason why people focus less on the worker identity of the victim. Yi So-hui, director of the Sexual Violence Counseling Center of Women Link pointed out, “Viewing sexual violence as a problem between individuals and not as a problem of structure or organization erases the victim as a worker.” Yi Yeong-hui, a labor attorney at the Women Labor Law Support Center said, “There is a tendency to view labor rights as less important than sexual self-determination, but self-determination is still limited to the concept of chastity, and guarding it becomes the victim’s obligation. It leads to secondary victimization asking the victim, ‘Why didn’t you quit (if you were a victim of sexual violence)?’”

The Human Rights Commission cited the structure of the workplace as a cause of sexual violence, but the latest result also revealed limitations. Bae Jin-kyung, head of the Korean Women Workers Association criticized the fact that the Commission failed to recommend improvements to the organizational structure, despite mentioning the fact that sexual violence occurred in the culture of the secretary office, where there was a low level of sexual awareness. She said, “In a structure where women are concentrated in junior positions and men in higher positions and where women are forced to engage in emotional care, sexual violence is bound to occur,” and added, “There should have been further requests for specific improvements on the roles of the secretary, the sexually discriminative structure and ranking system.”

Some experts also pointed out that the daily lives that victims need to restore should be one that is gender equal. Bae said, “The victim should return to a daily life in which she is recognized as an equal worker, where she can work hard and grow and dream of rising to the top position in the organization instead of enduring the same discrimination and experiencing neglect and humiliation.” She also said, “Victims should be able to continue working in that organization, receive wages, and continue living her life.”

What is necessary for victims to return to a life where their labor rights are respected? Yi So-hui stressed the support and solidarity of colleagues. She said, “Instead of saying ‘She stirs up trouble in the community,’ we need to change our way of thinking and say, ‘She is a person who took a brave step to resolve issues of sexual harassment and to change our organization.’”

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