South Korea’s president has joined a growing number of supporters of the country’s MeToo movement, adding momentum to recent allegations of sexual misconduct against some of the most powerful men in the nation’s art and entertainment industry.
President Moon Jae-in said in a meeting with his advisers that he respects victims who spoke out and urged authorities to investigate the cases thoroughly.
Mr Moon also said gender violence and sexual misconduct can be uprooted only when culture and views change, calling for a wider MeToo movement in the country.
In recent weeks, many women in conservative South Korea have publicly accused high-profile figures in art, entertainment, religion and literature of sexual misconduct.
The accused include Lee Yoon-taek, a former arts director at the National Theatre of Korea and a legend in the country’s theatrical community, and Cho Jae-hyun, a veteran actor known for leading roles in movies directed by Kim Ki-duk, a frequent participant in international film festivals.
Mr Kim also faced allegations of sexual and physical abuse on a film set and was fined for physically abusing an actress. Other well-known men in performing arts and religion have been accused of sexual harassment or rape.
Some of the accused, including Mr Cho and Mr Lee, issued public apologies, but that did not stop more women from coming forward. Mr Lee, however, denied allegations of rape. Mr Cho reportedly resigned from his position as director of a local film festival and offered to quit acting.
The latest round of accusations was fuelled by a female prosecutor, Seo Ji-hyeon, who talked in a live TV interview about mistreatment she received after trying to speak out about a senior male prosecutor who groped her at a funeral in 2010.
People were shocked that prosecutors, one of the most powerful groups in South Korea, could be vulnerable to sexual misconduct if they are female. The justice ministry has since launched a probe of the case and Ms Seo received strong public support.
In the past, many women in South Korea have used social media to disclose sexual harassment in film and literary circles, but this is the first time that the movement has been publicly backed by the country’s leader.
“I actively support the MeToo movement,” President Moon told his top advisers. “We should take this opportunity, however embarrassing and painful, to reveal the reality and find a fundamental solution. We cannot solve this through laws alone and need to change our culture and attitudes.”