"It's a shock to realize it happens in the army"
"What's new? It was just hushed up till now."
Typical responses to the series of recently publicized cases of sexual violence in the army. Some citizens are shocked by the incidence of sexual violence in an environment ruled by iron discipline, while others shrug and say it was a festering sore that finally came to a head. As the reality of sexual violence in the army is gradually revealed to the public, concerned voices - besides calling for campaigns to eradicate such violence and to educate soldiers on the truth of homosexuality - are appealing to "the victims to take matters into their own hands to solve the problem of sexual violence among soldiers."
On July 5, Lieutenant Colonel Son (aged 46), commander of a battalion, was arrested by the military police on suspicion of sexual harassment of A (aged 21), a private belonging to his battalion. Son was charged with summoning A to his office on more than 10 occasions from early last month to July 3, to sexually molest him, including touching his private parts.
And on July 9, Private Kim (aged 21), who had been sexually molested by a senior sharing his barrack, ended his agony by throwing himself down from the roof of a 25th-storey apartment instead of reporting back to the army after his vacation.
Amidst increasing cases of sexual violence among soldiers of the same gender, the military has decided on special measures to conduct surveys on all the battalions and to punish all offenders.
But sexual violence in the army is not a new problem that appeared out of the blue. According to a survey that the Catholic Human Rights Committee conducted last year on 232 soldiers and 140 university students who had completed military service less than a year before, 9.1% (34 respondents) had replied that they had "been coerced into sexual contact while serving in the army."
And before the survey, congressman Chung Dae-chul (currently representative of the ruling party) reported during the national audit of the Defense Ministry that since 1998, a total of 666 sexual violence cases - 244 cases of rape and 133 cases of molestation - had occurred in the army. Continuous attempts have been made to address the issue of sexual violence in the army, but they have failed so far due to the closed-up structure of the army and the reluctance of victims to speak out.
In the case of Private A, he had appealed to the battalion's medical officer to transfer him elsewhere "as the commander's sexual harassment was giving him a hard time." So unless the victims make their cases known, as A did, sexual violence in the army will continue to be buried and forgotten.
Park (aged 24) recalls, "The senior official lying next to me would touch my chest and private parts while everyone was asleep. I used to pretend I was asleep. It was difficult for me to speak out, and I think the other soldiers in the barrack knew but pretended not to notice."
Park goes on to say, "Most of the victims, even after they're discharged, would talk about it as if it happened to someone else. I know how embarrassing and humiliating it is, but like women victims who courageously reveal what happened to them, we have to speak out."
The Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center and the Sexual Minority Group of the Korean Charter of Amnesty International released a joint statement on July 15, appealing to the military to disclose sexual violence survey results to the public, eliminate the "prohibition of sodomy" clause in the military penal code, and replace it with stronger punitive measures.
The government has announced that a close investigation of sexual violence cases in the army will be conducted to expose and severely punish all offenders, but for sexual violence between member of the same gender, Article 92 of the Military Penal Code stipulates that "individuals found guilty of sodomy and other such misconduct shall be punished by imprisonment of less than 1 year," a considerably light penalty considering the seriousness of the crime.
Those appealing for heavier sentences also reason that the "prohibition of sodomy" clause carries the potential of human rights infringement by prohibiting homosexuality altogether. As such, they believe that besides providing for heavier punishment, the clause should be revised to include all sexual violence crimes including sexual molestation.
Through the joint statement, the two groups called for ▲ the establishment of a fact-finding investigation team and the disclosure of consequent findings ▲ the strengthening of education in the army to prevent sexual violence including that between members of the same gender ▲ the revision of Article 92 on "sodomy and other such misconduct" to a more inclusive article prohibiting sexual violence ▲ measures to provide victims with compensation and support.
They emphasized that the Ministry of National Defense "must show a proactive attitude in rectifying the environment that allows sexual violence between different and same genders in the army," and that it should also "come up with concrete measures based on a comprehensive awareness of human rights and structural observations regarding the army."
Kim Kim Bo-yeon, working in the human rights department of the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center, says, "Article 92 of the military penal code is a clause prohibiting homosexuality rather than sexual violence between people of the same gender." She adds, "This is a violation of the right not to face discrimination based on sexual orientation, protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 37 of the Constitution, and Article 30 of the National Human Rights Committee Act."
Kim claims that despite the fact that the rigid power hierarchy of the military is what causes sexual violence between members of the same gender in the army, the Ministry of Defense is misinterpreting a problem that has nothing to do with homosexuality.
Thus, Kim emphasizes that "the sodomy prohibition clause should be abolished, shifting the focus to the structural problem where victims find it difficult to speak out due to the power relationship and closed-up nature of the army." Kim also adds that the clause should be replaced with a clause stipulating heavier punishment against sexual violence in general, as the punishment of less than 1 year does not reflect the severity of human rights infringement involved in sexual violence between members of the same gender.
This is not the first time that the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center called public attention to the sodomy prohibition clause. In 2000, it submitted