Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government, prodded by media and civil society groups, generally implemented the law effectively. Nonetheless, officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and there were numerous reports of government corruption. Ruling and opposition politicians alike alleged that the judicial system was used as a political weapon.
Corruption: According to the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, the government was in year two of a five-year anticorruption plan, a road map aimed at fighting corruption in both the public and private sector. Commission members included the Ministry of Justice, the Board of Audit and Inspection, the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office, and the KNPA, among others. The plan includes establishing a system for avoiding conflicts of interest among public officials, preventing corruption within the military, and curbing corruption in public procurement. The government also operated an anticorruption policy council chaired by President Moon. Since its inception, the council has uncovered 124 cases of corruption involving 519 persons. Of the 124 cases, nine resulted in indictments, 38 were under investigation, and 506 individuals received disciplinary action.
On October 14, Cho Kuk, the Minister of Justice, resigned 35 days after his appointment amid allegations that he and his family used his positions unfairly and, in some cases, fraudulently to gain academic benefits for his daughter and inappropriate returns on investments. On October 24, prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Cho’s wife for allegedly destroying evidence and falsifying credentials for her daughter’s medical school application. Prosecutors continued to investigate Cho as of November and barred him from leaving the country.
In February the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency raided Burning Sun, a nightclub, after receiving reports of Gangnam police covering up sexual assaults at the club. The investigation into police corruption resulted in the arrest of a senior police officer for abuse of power for pulling strings for the club’s owners, and the sentencing of another police officer to one year in prison for taking 20 million won ($16,600) in bribes from the club. Critics argued that the focus of police on investigating recreational drug use, as opposed to abuse of power and private and public corruption, highlighted the systematic corruption in the country.
Financial Disclosure: By law public servants above a specified rank, including elected officials, must publicly declare their income and assets, including how they accumulated them. Failure to disclose assets fully is punishable by up to one year in prison and a 10 million won ($8,300) fine.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape; although no specific statute defines spousal rape as illegal, the Supreme Court acknowledged marital rape as illegal. The penalty for rape ranges from a minimum of three years to life imprisonment depending on the specific circumstances. Rape is defined in law as involving the use of violence. The law defines domestic violence as a serious crime and authorizes courts to order offenders to stay away from victims for up to six months. This restraining order may be extended up to two years. Offenders may be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison and fined up to seven million won ($5,810) for domestic violence offenses. Noncompliance with domestic violence restraining orders may result in a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a fine of up to 20 million won ($16,600). Authorities may also place convicted offenders on probation or order them to see court-designated counselors.
When there is a danger of domestic violence recurring and an immediate need for protection, the law allows a provisional order to be issued ex officio or at the victim’s request. This may restrict the subject of the order from living in the same home, approaching within 109 yards of the victim, or contacting the victim through telecommunication devices.
The law allows judges or an MOJ committee to sentence repeat sex offenders to “chemical castration,” where sex offenders undergo drug treatment designed to diminish sexual urges. The law was enacted to protect children against an increasing number of reported sex crimes. The ministry reported that one such procedure was conducted between January and July.
Police generally responded promptly and appropriately to reported incidents, and the judicial system effectively enforced the law. Because a rape conviction requires proving that violence was used, and because the country’s defamation laws allow countersuits by alleged perpetrators, rape offenses are underreported and under prosecuted.
In February the Seoul High Court overruled a lower court’s August 2018 acquittal of Ahn Hee-jung, former governor of South Chuncheong. The High Court convicted Ahn on multiple counts of “sexual intercourse by abuse of authority”–in lieu of a rape charge and other charges–and sentenced him to three-and-one-half years’ imprisonment. Ahn’s March 2018 arrest and subsequent trial for raping his former secretary drew nationwide attention to the country’s contentious definition of rape that is based on “means of violence” rather than lack of consent.
Domestic violence remained a significant and underreported problem according to NGOs. According to KNPA statistics, in 2018 248,660 cases of domestic violence were reported, an 11-percent decrease from 2017. Reports of violence among unmarried couples, called “dating violence,” doubled from 2016 (9,364 cases) to 2018 (18,961 cases).
Data from the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office showed that nearly 40 percent of victims of sex crimes were between 21 and 30 years old. Approximately 21 percent of victims were between 16 and 20 years old.
The Commission for the Eradication of Sexual Violence and Digital Sex Crimes seeks to coordinate the provision of countermeasures and promote consultation across ministries. It is composed of 24 members, including the MOGEF minister, vice ministers of relevant ministries, and private sector experts. The government also established gender equality positions in eight ministries to place greater emphasis on these issues.
The Supreme Prosecutor’s Office revised its investigation manual on sexual violence to delay investigating “false accusation” charges until it first reaches a decision on whether a sexual assault has actually taken place.
In June police arrested a man after he beat his foreign-born wife for three hours in front of their two-year-old child. A video clip of the assault was widely viewed on the internet, sparking a national debate about foreign brides and rural municipal governments offering subsidies (intended to stem rural population decline) to bring them to the country. An NGO, however, argued that the subsidies amounted to “wife buying” and that the brides were vulnerable to human rights abuses, “often [taking on] the role of a housekeeper and a sexual object.” The fact that it was on average 3.9 days from when the couple first met to when they were legally married, and that the average age difference between bride and groom was 18.4 years were cited to support this view. According to a survey by the NHRCK, 42 percent of foreign-born brides have experienced domestic violence and 68 percent had experienced unwanted sexual advances. Domestic violence among native South Korean couples is high in general but probably somewhat lower than among mixed couples.
In August, in response to violence against migrant brides, the MOJ announced new regulatory measures to prevent abuses. These included a “one strike” policy that prevented a person convicted of domestic violence from petitioning for a visa for a foreign bride. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) was concerned that the addition of a “right to request investigation” policy might make foreign spouses more vulnerable. The policy allows the South Korean spouse to petition immigration authorities directly to investigate the foreign spouse in the event of separation. The IOM feared this would exacerbate the already disproportionate power imbalance in these relationships.
In March 2018, in response to the #MeToo movement, MOGEF created the Special Center for Reporting Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault. The ministry funded 170 counseling centers (called “sunflower centers”) nationwide for victims of sexual violence, providing counseling, medical care and therapy, caseworkers, and legal assistance. There were 241,343 reported cases of sexual violence in 2018 (an increase of 33.7 percent since 2017), according to Statistics Korea, a government agency. According to NGOs, sunflower centers generally provided adequate support to female victims of sexual assault, but male victims struggled to find help.
In July the government formally closed the Reconciliation and Healing foundation, established with a one billion yen ($9.1 million) contribution from the Japanese government under a 2015 bilateral agreement to provide support to former comfort women; no decision was made on how to use unspent funds.
Sexual Harassment: The law obligates companies and organizations to take preventive measures against sexual harassment. Under antibullying laws introduced in July, in certain cases failure to take appropriate action may result in fines or jail time. The government generally enforced the law effectively. The KNPA classifies sexual harassment as “indecent acts by compulsion.”
Sexual harassment was a significant social problem, and there were numerous cases of sexual harassment reported in media throughout the year.
In February a female student at Seoul National University accused a professor of sexual harassment. She said that the professor gave her unwanted shoulder massages and played with her hair while she slept on a bus, lifted up her skirt and touched her leg when she would not show him a scar on her inner thigh, and forced her to drink significant amounts of alcohol. She submitted her complaints to the university’s Human Rights Center, along with complaints from 17 other students. The center suspended the professor for three months. The student called the decision “absurd” and urged the school to terminate him, but the school declined.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal rights under the constitution as men. In January, President Moon described the gender gap as a “shameful reality” and pledged to address it. Moon has generally kept his pledge from the beginning of his term that 30 percent of his cabinet nominations would be women. Women hold 17 percent of seats in the National Assembly. In line with the law, which states that women must hold 50 percent of parties’ proportionally allocated representative seats in the National Assembly, 24 of the 47 proportional representatives were women as of August. The law provides for equal pay for equal work, but the gender pay gap was 36.5 percent in 2018, an increase of 2 percent from the previous year.