South Korea to launch biggest probe into sexual abuse in sports, aims to form 'national surveillance system'

Shim Suk-hee outside the Suwon District Court in South Korea in December 2018.
Shim Suk-hee outside the Suwon District Court in South Korea in December 2018.PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korea will hold its largest-ever investigation into sexual abuse in sports, its human rights watchdog said on Tuesday (Jan 22), after an Olympic speed skating star accusing her former coach of abuse triggered a wave of similar accounts from athletes.

The inquiry will aim to address "systematic, sustained" abuse in sports, which had been hushed up for generations by victims afraid of being banished from their sports, said Choi Young-ae, chairwoman of the National Human Rights Commission.

"We will conduct a fact-finding inquiry that will be the largest in scale ever," Choi told a news conference.

A commission official said up to about 30,000 people - athletes from all sports, coaches, officials and others - are likely to be interviewed over the course of the year-long investigation.

The #MeToo movement has taken off belatedly in male-dominated South Korea where discussion of sexual misconduct has long been considered taboo.

But the issue exploded in the world of sports after Shim Suk-hee, 21, accused her former coach, Cho Jae-beom, of sexual assault.

Cho, a former national short track speed skating coach, had already been convicted of assaulting the two-time Olympic champion - punching and kicking her during training - and jailed for 10 months in September last year.

 

In December, Shim made accusations of sexual abuse against him. Cho denied the accusation of sexual abuse, media cited his lawyer as saying.

Since then, more athletes from various sports, including judo and archery, have come forward with accounts of assault and sexual abuse, media has reported.

Choi said that victims had, for too long, not spoken out because of a "results-centred culture focused on medals".

An "independent, constant, national surveillance system" would be established to gather data, conduct inquiries, and educate officials on human rights, she said.

Investigators would look into cases without the requirement of an initial accusation, and would take measures including protection for victims and refer cases quickly to police and prosecutors, a spokesman for the commission said.

President Moon Jae-in said last week that the spate of accounts of abuse was a shameful tarnish on South Korea's "bright image as a sports powerhouse", and called for a thorough investigation and strict punishments.

The commission, noting that it had carried out an investigation into abuse of student-athletes in 2008, said it would work to end a "nothing changes" culture.