[Reporter’s notebook] National Tax Service is complicit in suicide of sexual assault victim
















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[Reporter’s notebook] National Tax Service is complicit in suicide of sexual assault victim

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National Tax Service (NTS) Commissioner Kim Dae-ji speaks during a parliamentary audit of the tax agency at the National Assembly in Yeouido, Seoul, Oct. 8. Yonhap
National Tax Service (NTS) Commissioner Kim Dae-ji speaks during a parliamentary audit of the tax agency at the National Assembly in Yeouido, Seoul, Oct. 8. Yonhap


By Lee Kyung-min

What makes sexual assault victims commit suicide?

I can’t even imagine how unbearable and pointless they found life to be before concluding that giving up altogether is the only answer.

But I’m becoming more and more convinced that the suicide of a tax official a few months ago was not due to a sudden impulse or desperation from the incident itself, but because of a sense of injustice that continued along the way.

According to files submitted by the National Tax Service (NTS) to Rep. Yong Hye-in of the minor opposition Basic Income Party as part of an audit of the tax agency, the victim who worked at the Incheon tax office committed suicide in May, about four years after she was sexually assaulted by her superior in a karaoke bar during an after-work get-together on Sept. 27, 2017. She had since been treated for depression. The files included criminal complaints, court rulings and the tax agency’s written reports.

The victim reported the incident to the police and to the head of the office the next day. She repeatedly demanded that she be assigned to a new section to be removed from the perpetrator’s supervision on a daily basis.

However, no measures were taken to separate them for the following three months, during which time their co-workers submitted appeals in writing to the court so it would rule in his favor.

The victim posted a message on the NTS’s intranet board about the daily struggle she faced since the incident, but her efforts seeking help went unanswered. The head of the tax office at the time even asked her, “Do you have proof?” and insisted, “The man tried to take good care of you.”

These were followed by further derogatory comments on her looks and behavior in general. Soon, she heard rumors about how she had falsely accused the perpetrator and that she had a long list of criminal records, all of which were not true.

The victim demanded an apology from and punishment of the perpetrator and that she be moved to a different regional office. The perpetrator did not apologize and was moved to an office in a different region in January 2018.

The audit department under the NTS failed to take necessary steps, including the timely provision of legal assistance to the victim ― let alone an investigation or simple questioning of the victim or those who might have witnessed the scene. Only the perpetrator was questioned, denying the victim the chance to refute the man’s claim and to make her case.

A local court found him guilty in November 2018, ordering him to undertake community service and fined him an unidentified amount. Only then did the NTS submit a request for disciplinary action with the Ministry of Personnel Management. A disciplinary committee at the ministry ordered a three-month suspension of duty for the perpetrator.

The victim won a civil suit filed against the perpetrator and the government in August 2020.

When asked about this at the audit, Oct. 8, NTS Commissioner Kim Dae-ji only briefly expressed regret about the lack of response measures at the time.

The audit is over. The victim died. No one would think too much about it. I cannot shake off the thought that it was all preventable.

It would not have happened if only the NTS had taken the issue more seriously, given it just a bit more thought about how the victim would have felt and how helpless she became as things dragged on.

The tax agency head had one thing to do to keep the victim alive: make sure that she did not feel at fault.

I guess Kim and by extension people at the agency did not give it too much thought and treated the issue as no more than fodder for office gossip to kill time, since it was not their problem.

But there is a saying I want them to be reminded of: You are either part of the problem or part of the solution.

Perhaps this should come to the mind of the commissioner the next time he is briefed on a similar incident.

Or he will have to live with a lifetime of regret that his lapse in judgment led to yet another institutional failure of the organization where the only answer for victims of power abuse is to take their own lives.

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