SEOUL, Aug. 13 (UPI) -- South Korea is expecting the first court verdict this week in the nation's #MeToo movement that has rocked government, as well as academia and the entertainment industry as women have mobilized to fight sexual misconduct.
Ahn Hee-jeong, former governor of South Chuncheong Province, is the first high-profile figure to stand trial on sexual abuse allegations since the global movement spread to South Korea.
In January, a prosecutor revealed in a TV news interview that a high-ranking justice ministry official groped her at a funeral eight years ago and that her career was damaged afterward. The woman's revelation inspired more women to break their silence.
Ahn's former secretary was one of them. Kim Ji-eun came forward to accuse her boss of sexual assault allegations in a TV news interview.
A flurry of accusations followed from the cultural scene.
Actresses and female workers in the film industry exposed decades-old sexual harassment and assault allegations against filmmaker Kim Ki-duk and actor Cho Jae-hyun. Actresses in the theater scene joined to reveal sexual misconduct by prominent director Lee Yoon-taek.
Stories of sexual misconduct involving powerful figures went viral on social media and received much media coverage and public support.
"Media has helped individual victims to connect and encourage each other," Kim Bo-myung, a visiting scholar at the Institute for Gender Research at Seoul National University, told UPI.
"It was the first time that women widely accused high-profile male figures of abusing their power in the form of sexual misconduct," Kim said.
The #MeToo movement started in the wake of widespread sexual misconduct and rape allegations against American movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Actress Alyssa Milano started the #MeToo hashtag on Twitter in October 2017 to encourage victims of sexual assault to share their stories.
The movement comes to Korea as women are fighting for protection and equality in other ways, as well.
Spy cam scandals
A spy cam crime investigation has ignited another wave of feminism.
A woman was convicted Monday after being arrested in May for secretly filming a male model in a nude drawing class at a university and distributing the video online.
Women activists called the police investigation "unfair," saying the police acted unusually quickly to investigate and indict her while taking longer to investigate spy cam cases involving male suspects.
More than 419,000 women signed a petition on the presidential office's website, calling the police investigation unfair.
Former chief of the Korean National Police Agency Lee Chul-sung said the investigation moved quickly because it involved only 20 people in a closed classroom.
The woman in the university case was sentenced to 10 months in prison and a 40-hour sex education program.
Meanwhile, the secret filming of women has been rising in public places and the distribution of footage online is emerging as a digital sex crime. According to government data, digital sex crimes have increased from 2,400 cases in 2012 to 5,185 in 2016.
Women have taken to the streets in Seoul holding signs reading "My life is not your porn" and "I march so my daughter won't have to." They wore red T-shirts to express their fury while covering their faces with masks and sunglasses to prevent exposure of their identities.
Some 15,000 protesters gathered for the first protest in May and the number grew to more than 70,000 at the fourth event on Aug.4, according to the women's rights group called Inconvenient Courage.
What started as a protest against the police probe grew bigger, calling for justice against male spy cam perpetrators and gender equality in the deeply patriarchal, male-dominated society.
"Male police officers don't pay attention to crimes against women and it has resulted in increasing the number of women victims in digital sex crimes," Inconvenient Courage said in a statement released at its fourth protest, demanding the recruitment of more women to the police force.
The protests have drawn some backlash.
Some investigations of sexual misconduct allegations have ended in deadlock, with victims risking defamation charges.
Some men have responded aggressively to feminist comments.
K-pop star Son Naeun of Apink was the target of hateful remarks by male fans for holding her mobile phone case with the slogan "Girls can do anything." Attacked by misogynic comments online, she had to delete the photo and her agency explained that the case was an accessory by a French fashion brand.
Irene of Red Velvet was also hit by misogyny after saying at a fan meeting that she read the bestselling book Kim Ji Young Born 1982, which deals with inequalities women face in Korean society. Some of her male fans accused her of promoting feminism and posted pictures of themselves burning her photos on social media.