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7 Air Force officers, others indicted over suicide of servicewoman who suffered sexual abuse

16:23 September 13, 2022

SEOUL, Sept. 13 (Yonhap) -- Special prosecutor Ahn Mi-young has indicted five Air Force officers and two others in connection with the suicide of a sexually abused servicewoman on charges of attempting to cover up the abuse case or defaming the victim.

Wrapping up the 100-day investigation, Ahn's team concluded that the officers' mishandling of the sexual assault case deepened the despair of 23-year-old Air Force master sergeant Lee Ye-ram and led to her suicide in May 2021.

Lee of the Air Force's 20th Fighter Wing was sexually abused by a male superior of the same rank two months before taking her own life. The abuser was later indicted and sentenced to nine years in prison before the sentence was reduced to seven years in an appeals trial in June this year.

Bereaved family members have claimed that their loved one took her own life as her voice was not heard properly in the sexual abuse case, and said that senior officers at her unit attempted to cover up the case or blamed the victim.

The special investigation into such allegations was launched in June.

The indicted include the assailant in the sexual abuse case, two former and incumbent squadron commanders of the 20th Fighter Wing, a military prosecutor, a former Air Force public affairs officer and the Air Force's chief legal affairs officer, Brig. Gen. Jeon Ik-soo.

The two 20th Fighter Wing officers failed to provide necessary protection to Lee in the wake of the sexual assault by either making false reports to the Air Force personnel department or making defamatory remarks about Lee to a squadron commander of another fighter wing she was relocated to after the abuse case.

The military prosecutor who was in charge of Lee's case allegedly neglected his duties to investigate suspected defamation and delayed his review of the case.

The Air Force public affairs officer also allegedly made defamatory remarks about Lee to reporters with the intention to turn negative public opinion against the Air Force while Brig. Gen. Jeon was accused of meddling in the initial probe into Lee's case.

The special counsel team concluded frustration and helplessness Lee felt from such secondary victimization following the sexual abuse led to her decision to take her own life.

"I hope the military's wrong culture and the old custom of neglecting the fear and the pain of sexual abuse victims can change," Ahn said, pledging further actions to bring the accused to justice.

Special prosecutor Ahn Mi-young announces the result of her team's probe into the suicide of a sexually abused Air Force servicewoman during a press conference in Seoul on Sept. 13, 2022. (Yonhap)

pbr@yna.co.kr
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