Korea's Shim Suk Hee celebrates as she crosses the finish line to win gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics. She has accused her former coach of raping her, starting when she was 17. File Photo by Molly Riley/UPI | License Photo
SEOUL, April 12 (UPI) -- Months after rape allegations surfaced against a South Korean Olympic coach, the state-run human rights watchdog announced it has launched an investigation into physical and sexual assault in sports.
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea revealed this week that it's more than a month into a yearlong crackdown on physical and sexual misconduct across the nation's many sports organizations.
The decision comes after a preliminary investigation, which started Feb. 25, found more than 30 cases of reported abuse and concluded that sports organizations are "unable to successfully protect athletes."
Now, the commission is casting a wider net, pledging to probe both professional organizations and school sports, ranging from elementary school to university level.
More than 32,800 crimes involving sexual violence were recorded in 2017 in South Korea, according to the Korean Statistical Information Service. That amounts to nearly four incidents an hour.
In December, South Korea's #MeToo movement came back into national focus when Olympic short-track speed skater and gold medalist Shim Suk-hee, 22, accused her former coach, Cho Jae-bom, of raping her several times, starting when she was 17. The case was frequently compared to the case of Larry Nassar, a former doctor for the U.S. women's national gymnastics team who was convicted of sexually assaulting as many as 260 athletes.
An official from South Korea's human rights commission confirmed that Shim's allegations provoked the preliminary investigation, along with "several other similar cases." Shortly after, commission Chairwoman Cho Young-ae vowed to "make things right."
"I stand here with a devastated feeling," Choi said in a Jan. 29 statement. "The severity of violence and sexual violence in sports should no longer be overlooked."
The probe will specifically review how various sports groups handle reports of abuse, including the Ministry of Education, the Korean Paralympic Committee and the Korean Sport & Olympic Committee.
Kim Hyun-mok, a member of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism's Department of Sports Policy, told UPI that the ministry is cooperating with the investigation.
"We consider our active cooperation necessary, since human rights are something that must be protected," Kim said. "We think there is a systemic problem in sports culture, and [our] Sports Innovation Committee is discussing how to solve this problem."
On top of tracking down egregious abuse reporting procedures, the commission will offer counseling or legal advice to victims. The investigation -- which could be extended to a second year -- may also yield specific policy recommendations that the rest of government can weigh in on.
However, the watchdog group can only dole out warnings and give recommendations for how individual abuse cases are handled once the commission labels them as human rights violations.
It will be up to law enforcement to take care of the rest.