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South Korea revs up fight against sexual crimes

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South Korea on Thursday announced measures to toughen punishment on sexual violence in the workplace, responding to growing calls to root out the pervasive culture of predatory sexual behavior at work.

The government announced a plan to raise the maximum punishment and extend the statute of limitations for sexual assault cases involving abuse of power at work, as seen in cases of An Hee-jung, former South Chungcheong Province governor accused of raping his secretary multiple times, and theatrical writer-director Lee Youn-taek, who is accused of sexually assaulting numerous female junior colleagues.

According to the new plan, the maximum prison sentence for obtaining sex through abuse will be raised to 10 years from the current five years. The statute of limitations will also be extended to 10 years from the current 7-year threshold.

For sexual harassment cases, maximum punishment will be raised to five years from the current two-year ceiling. Statute of limitation will be lengthened to seven years from the current 5-year period.

The government also said it plans to actively pursue criminal cases against those who cover up, ignore or abet sex-related crimes within organizations or groups. It will also revise regulations to automatically ban subsidies to such private entities.

Chief executives of private companies that do not take disciplinary actions against sexual harassments cases could also face jail time, according to the government. The justice ministry is considering raising the maximum penalty to a prison sentence from the current fine of 5 million won ($4,680) or below.

Amid a number of shocking "Me Too' revelations within the arts and cultural communities, the government plans to launch a special fact-finding group to research the state of sexual violence within the industry. New legislation to protect and support artists from sex-related crimes will also be pursued.

Chung Hyun-back, minister of gender equality and family, will head an inter-agency government task force to pursue and follow up on the newly announced plan. The task force will include experts from academia and civic communities.

Last week, the gender equality ministry announced measures to toughen the punishment of sexual violence in the public sector, including plans to revise the national public service law to have public servants dismissed when they are assessed a fine worth 3 million won ($2,800) or a heavier sentence for sexual crimes.

The Me Too movement in South Korea was triggered by a female prosecutor who revealed in January that she had been sexually assaulted by a senior colleague several years ago. It was followed by a raft of revelations from alleged female victims in the culture, arts, education and religious sectors. (Yonhap)

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