15 charged over sexual abuse cover-up of South Korea’s first trans soldier

transgender soldier abuse case covered up

South Korean authorities have charged fifteen individuals with covering up in alleged sexual abuse case of Air Force officer Byun Hee-soo, South Korea’s first transgender soldier. 

An avoidable death: Byun, who was forced to quit the Air Force in 2020 following a gender reassignment surgery, took her own life earlier this year, reported the BBC

  • While it was reported that the 23-year-old Air Force master sergeant died of suicide in March, her actual cause of death has not been officially revealed.
  • Byun’s death made local and international headlines and sparked public uproar in South Korea. 
  • Chief of Staff Gen Lee Seong-yong resigned in June after taking “heavy responsibility” for the incident. 
  • President Moon Jae-in accepted Lee’s resignation and ordered an investigation into the case after hundreds of thousands signed a petition calling for it.

Abuse cover-up: A recent investigation revealed that Byun had accused a male colleague of sexually assaulting her while they were being transported to base.

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  • When Byun reported the incident to her superior officers, she was forced into a private settlement with the colleague, the findings revealed.
  • In June, a male master sergeant was arrested over the abuse allegation.
  • In addition to those charged, dozens more Air Force officials will face disciplinary action due to their alleged cover-up efforts, which includes pressuring the victim to reach a private settlement with her abuser and the destruction or leaking of evidence.
  • A local court later ruled that the military had unlawfully discriminated against Byun for being transgender. 

On Byun’s dismissal: The Daejeon District Court also ruled that Byun had been wrongfully discharged in 2020 and that her dismissal should be annulled, Reuters reported.

  • According to Yonhap, the military had previously judged that the removal of her male genitals “belongs to the Level 3 physical disability under the military laws.”
  • Based on the local court’s new ruling, the classification of her surgery as a disability was highly discriminatory as there were “no mental or physical disability grounds for dismissal.”
  • Advocates have welcomed the latest ruling, as it provides new hope for sexual minorities who have previously been unable to join the military. 

Featured Image via Reuters

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