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(LEAD) Two more Navy members booked in probe over death of female sexual abuse victim

All News 15:36 August 17, 2021

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead with ongoing probe; ADDS photo, more details in paras 2-7; RESTRUCTURES)
By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, Aug. 17 (Yonhap) -- Navy police looking into the suicide death of a sexually harassed noncomissioned officer said Tuesday they have booked the chief of her unit and another for investigation on charges of breaking the confidentiality of the case.

The two -- a commander leading the unit and a senior chief petty officer -- were accused of violating their obligation to protect the identity of an informant under the Framework Act on Military Status and Service, Navy police said.

Further details were not provided, but sources said the two are suspected of letting other members of her unit know of the harassment case either wittingly or unwittingly, even though she had asked the case be kept under wraps.

The victim, a chief petty officer, was found dead in an suicide at her residence Thursday, just three days after she filed an official complaint about the sexual abuse by a senior chief petty officer while having lunch together on May 27.

The commander and the senior chief petty officer were the only people she spoke of about the case. But they let other unit members know of it while giving a warning to the perpetrator and delivering a lecture on how to prevent sex crimes at barracks, according to the sources.

"We've been looking into if their alleged information leakage had played a part in her decision to take her own life," a Navy officer said. "We are also investigating whether the prime suspect had forced her not to file a complaint or bullied the victim after the case, as well as if any other members had inflicted secondary harm."

The sexual abuse suspect was arrested Saturday.

A truck carrying condolence flowers enters the Armed Forces Daejeon Hospital in the central city of Daejeon on Aug. 14, 2021, where a memorial altar is set up for a female Navy noncommissioned officer who took her own life after being sexually harassed by a senior colleague in May. (Yonhap)

Her death added to criticism of the military's handling of sexual harassment cases as it came less than three months after an Air Force noncommissioned officer committed suicide following sexually harassment from a colleague months earlier.

Last week, Defense Minister Suh Wook apologized for the incident and vowed to carry out a thorough investigation.

During an emergency meeting with top military commanders Tuesday, Suh ordered them to take steps to protect sexual abuse victims even before they file an official complaint.

The so-called restricted sexual assault reporting system enables service members to confidentially disclose their sufferings only to specified individuals to receive medical treatment and other support without triggering investigations.

Under the current system, victims can get help only after an official investigation process begins. The defense ministry said the envisioned system is similar to the U.S.' restricted reporting policy for military members.

Experts have called for measures to better protect victims as many victims in the military are assaulted by those in their chain of command, making them reluctant to file a complaint out of fear that they may experience retaliation or secondary harm under the strict command structure and the exclusive barracks culture.

"It is an urgent task to extend support for victims who are suffering but have failed to report their case," Suh said, instructing officials to seek ways to carry out such measures as soon as possible.

In this file photo, the parents of the late Air Force sexual harassment victim, surnamed Lee, cry as they hold a press conference at a military hospital in Seongnam, south of Seoul, on June 28, 2021. (Yonhap)

graceoh@yna.co.kr
(END)

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