Sexual assault scandal at South Korea's elite military academy


South Korean cadets parade during the 60th graduation ceremony at an army military academy on March 9, 2004 in Seoul, South Korea.


Chung Sung-Jun

It's not just the US military that has a rape problem: South Koreans have been outraged by a burgeoning sex scandal at the country's top army training school that has already cost one senior officer his job and left 11 others facing disciplinary action.

The outcry centers on an alleged sexual assault committed at the elite Korea Military Academy in Seoul. A junior female cadet says a senior male cadet attacked her on campus during the night of May 22, hours after officers and students had been drinking together at an academy sports event.

The woman had reportedly vomited repeatedly from the alcohol, which is when the other cadet took her to his room and allegedly assaulted her.

What's more, the reported incident only came to light almost a week after it allegedly occurred, prompting accusations of an attempted cover-up. The academy maintains that it was simply seeking to protect the alleged victim's privacy.

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Since then, military police have arrested the accused cadet and state prosecutors called in to investigate, an army spokesman said Monday. Reports say the suspect has been expelled from the academy, though there was no official confirmation.

Higher-up heads have already rolled, however. Lt. Gen. Park Nam Su, the head of the academy, offered his resignation over the affair and has since been discharged. 

Meanwhile a disciplinary committee will investigate whether 11 other officers who drank with trainees should also be punished. Two of those facing action are one-star generals.

The army was quick to stress that this is the first complaint of sexual assault on the academy campus since it began admitting female students in 1998 — though as South Korean media pointed out, one of its male cadets was expelled in 2008 for taking illicit pictures of a woman in a subway restroom.

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Activists complain that sexual harassment within the military is typical of South Korea and its male-dominated, hierarchical work culture. They say that incidents in the military and corporations often go unreported or are simply covered up.

Sexual assault hit the headlines most recently when, in early May, President Park Geun Hye's spokesman was accused of grabbing the buttocks of a Korean-American embassy intern in Washington, DC, during a presidential visit. He fled the country just as the police were opening an investigation, but was fired when he landed in Seoul.

Of course, the South Korean government isn't the only one having to deal with the issue lately. On May 21, a Pentagon task force found that the US army's anti-sexual assault programs had failed thanks to poor leadership and easy access to alcohol.

South Korea is home to 28,500 US servicemen, a minority of whom frequent "juicy bars," or establishments where Filipina hostesses serve drinks and where some sexual assaults take place.

Geoffrey Cain contributed to this report from Seoul. Follow him on Twitter: @geoffrey_cain