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Korea: NHRC Releases Sexual Harassment Casebook

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In its fight against gender violence in Republic of Korea, the National Human Rights Commission has compiled a casebook of 23 sexual harassment appeals for distribution to various organizations, schools and counseling centers to raise better awareness of sexual violence and the mechanisms available to counterattack the problem. 
Although the Republic of Korea ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1984, sexual harassment has been an ongoing issue due to the underlying culture of male patriarchy which is still prevalent and the taboo on talking about sexual issues. However, in recent years, the Korean government has taken a positive step towards addressing gender violence by establishing a mechanism to investigate complaints and providing a means of remedy through recommendations made by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK).

To mark its second anniversary of handling gender discrimination and sexual harassment cases, the NHRCK has recently published  "Decisions on Recommendation of Reform for Sexual Harassment Cases", which complies 23 sexual harassment cases of which recommendations where made by the NHRCK throughout the past two years. According to this case study, there have been a total of 226 cases of appeal involving sexual harassment from 2005 to May 2007.1 Out of these 226 cases, 204 have been processed while 22 cases are still under investigation.2 Excluding 96 cases that have been dismissed or handed over to another governmental agency if it does not fall under the jurisdiction of the NHRCK, 83% of the total number of cases have been resolved through various mechanisms such as recommendations for reconciliation, mutual settlement and resolution during investigations.3

The majority of the sexual harassment cases, estimated to be 85.4% of the total number of appeals, occurred in the workplace indicating a strong correlation to labour rights of women.4 The NHRCK has also taken a gender sensitive approach when determining what constitutes as sexual harassment, analyzing the situation through the eyes of the victim and not the perpetrator. Regardless of what the intentions of the perpetrator were, the NHRCK state that the party is guilty of sexual harassment if the victim felt sexually insulted through the actions of the perpetrator. The complied cases show that the definition of sexual harassment has been expanded to include incidents between not only the opposite sex but also the same sex, as one case involves sexual harassment between a homosexual male and another male. Sexual harassment between the same sex is not yet well publicized due to cultural taboos and is an issue that needs to be further addressed. NHRCK also made a significant step in applying a gender sensitive approach to its initiatives by acknowledging indirect types of sexual harassment such as being forced to eat and drink at company dinners, especially at places where commercial sexual activities were being offered.

NHRCK is planning to distribute the published casebook to various companies, schools and counselling centres for the prevention of sexual harassment through better awareness5. However, it is still to be foreseen whether or not the recommendations given by the NHRCK will in fact diminish the practice of gender-based violence in the workplace or raise greater awareness of what is defined as sexual harassment.

1 National Human Rights Commission of Korea,  "Decisions on Recommendation of Reform for Sexual Harassment Cases", June 22, 2007
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.