After a female prosecutor opened up about her experience of sexual harassment by a former Justice Ministry senior official, sexual violence has become a publicized issue in Korea.
Prosecutor Seo Ji-hyun’s revelation led to the nationwide spread of “Me Too” movement, in which women use the phrase with a hashtag on social media and expose their experience of sexual assault or harassment.
The sexual molestation and harassment are prevalent in the medical community as well.
In 2011, three male students attending Korea University’s College of Medicine sexually abused a female student as a group and photographed her with mobile phones. The incident created public outrage. At that time, the perpetrators received jail terms and got kicked out of school. However, two of them entered another medical school later, which stirred up controversy again.
In 2016, 21 male students of Inha University’s College of Medicine were suspended indefinitely for sexually harassing female students. However, some of the perpetrators requested the suspension of disciplinary actions and the requests were accepted. Victims had to take classes with the perpetrators.
Sexual assaults by senior physicians are continuing. In 2013, a professor at the Seoul Paik Hospital’s mental health medicine department sexually molested a female intern and lost his job.
A professor at Yangsan Pusan National University Hospital, who has been sexually abusing and harassing female specialists for many years, was dismissed in March last year after the media reported his wrongdoings.
In October, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Gangnam Severance Hospital sexually molested a woman specialist at a dinner.
At Seoul National University Hospital, a male professor was referred to the personnel committee and suspended for six months after sexually assaulting a female professor under the influence of alcohol. Recently, a male specialist who sexually harassed a female trainee physician at a public hospital was dismissed.
Although news reports have revealed some cases of sexual assaults, they are only part of all the sexual violence cases in the medical field, observers said.
According to a survey by the Korean Intern Resident Association (KIRA) and the Korea Medical Association (KMA) on trainee physicians, 28.7 percent of 1,768 trainee doctors experienced sexual harassment, and 10.2 percent, sexual abuse. Among 631 female trainee physicians, 48.5 percent said they experienced sexual harassment, and 16.3 percent, sexual abuse.
However, victims of sexual violence usually find it difficult to respond to the incident and suffer secondary damage properly.
Now, the medical community is making an effort to help victims properly deal with sexual abuse. The Korean Medical Women’s Association (KMWA) is taking the initiative. The KMWA’s primary goal is to build a standardized system to help sexual assault victims report the incident without hiding.
To do so, the association is pushing to universalize sexual violence response manuals, which are now all different in every hospital. Then, the KMWA will seek the inclusion of the integrated manual in the KMA Policy. The manual will also state the composition of a disciplinary committee, which can impose adequate punishment on the offender, the KMWA said.
The KMWA is expected to propose that the KMA Policy, which contains the KMA’s stance on the government’s medical policies, include practical training on prevention of sexual violence and efforts to protect victims.
“Many female doctors will agree with Seo Ji-hyun, who said that it was not right for the victim of the sexual abuse to suffer,” said Shin Hyun-young, director of international affairs at the KMWA, who works at Myongji Hospital’s family medicine department.
If a victim of sexual molestation or harassment talks about it within the medical community or outside world, the victim usually has a great fear that he or she can be buried in the community. This means that the medical circles are not punishing offenders properly, she said.
“A strict hierarchy of the medical field between seniors and juniors makes it difficult to appeal sexual abuse to a senior,” Shin said. “It is now the time for the KMWA to raise the issue and set the tone. We’re planning to insert practical response measures in the manual so that we can protect the victims and punish the offenders appropriately.”