S. Korean director apologises for sexually abusing actress

SEOUL • Former actress Kim Soo Hee said she could not refuse the request. "He was the king of the world where I belonged," she added, describing how prominent South Korean theatre director Lee Youn Taek had called her to his hotel room.

"When I opened the door, I saw him lying on the bed and, as expected, he ordered me to give him a massage. After a while, he suddenly took his trousers off," Kim recounted in a Facebook post last week.

On Monday, Lee, 66, apologised. "I feel so ashamed and crushed," the former artistic director of the National Theatre of Korea, said.

"I am ready to take all punishment, including legal responsibilities for my crimes."

Women's rights advocates have long warned that male supervisors exploit the country's command-and-compliance work culture.

Lee's admission attested to the scale of the problem.

"This is a very bad thing that has been happening customarily for the past 18 years," he said.

The World Economic Forum ranks South Korea 118th of 144 countries in terms of gender equality.

As elsewhere, sexual abuse victims often remain quiet. In 2009, a young actress named Jang Ja Yeon killed herself, leaving behind a note saying she had been forced to provide sexual favours to entertainment executives.

But as the #MeToo movement has erupted around the world, complaints in South Korea have trickled out.

In November, a 25-year-old employee of furniture maker Hanssem posted a detailed account of being sexually assaulted by male colleagues. Nurses at Hallym University Medical Centre said they were told to dance in skimpy outfits at work-related events.

A tipping point appears to have come last month when a prosecutor named Ms Seo Ji Hyeon asserted that a senior male prosecutor groped her at a funeral in 2010.

After taking the rare step of appearing on TV to describe how she had been suppressed in the male-dominated legal world, she drew a wave of public support, forcing the Justice Ministry to open an investigation.

In November, Parliament improved protection for victims of sexual harassment, increasing penalties for employers who discriminate against them or fail to investigate abuse.

Still, a fresh reminder of the obstacles victims have faced in South Korea came only minutes before Lee held his news conference on Monday.

In a Facebook post, another former actress, Lee Seung Bi, wrote that she had been subjected to a "witch hunt" after she rebuffed Lee.

"Even my boyfriend, who was a member of his theatre group, kept silent," she wrote.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2018, with the headline 'S. Korean director apologises for sexually abusing actress'. Subscribe