South Korea’s Moon orders task force in wake of military sexual assault and suicide case

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SEOUL, June 7 (UPI) — South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Monday ordered the creation of a task force to shake up the country’s military culture in response to public outrage over the suicide of a female Air Force sergeant who was sexually assaulted by a male colleague.

“An organization that can comprehensively improve the military barracks culture beyond individual issues should be established and used as an opportunity for fundamental improvement,” Moon said, according to spokeswoman Park Kyung-mee.

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The Air Force master sergeant, publicly identified only by her surname Lee, was sexually assaulted in her car by a colleague of the same rank in early March and reported the incident to officials, according to media reports.

Her family submitted a petition to the presidential Blue House last week, which accuses the Air Force of attempting to cover up the assault and silence Lee, ultimately leading to her suicide. Lee was found dead in her home on May 22. The petition, which calls for the president’s office to conduct a thorough investigation of the incident, has so far received more than 350,000 signatures .

“The recent military-related anger cannot be overlooked,” Moon said on Monday.

He said the task force should include civilian members and urged it to “create a system to prevent such an incident from repeating itself.”

Moon also called on the National Assembly, South Korea’s parliament, to pass a proposed bill that would overhaul the military court system.

During a speech commemorating South Korea’s Memorial Day on Sunday, the president vowed to correct the military culture that led to Lee’s “tragic and unjust death.” He later met with the victim’s parents at a funeral home and apologized for the country failing to protect their daughter, according to his spokeswoman.

A suspect in the assault was arrested last week and two superiors were relieved of duty amid a probe that picked up steam amid the outcry over the case.

On Friday, the head of the Air Force, Gen. Lee Seong-yong, offered his resignation, which President Moon’s office announced was immediately accepted.

South Korea’s military has long faced charges of turning a blind eye to abuses in its barracks, from severe bullying to sexual assault. In 2019, Amnesty International released a report detailing the discrimination and violence that LGBT members of the military experience.

In March, a South Korean transgender soldier took her own life after being forcibly discharged from the military, sparking another round of public anger.