Male teachers at a Seoul-based high school were recently accused of sexually harassing their female colleagues and students for more than a year, leading to severe criticism of the city education office for possibly neglecting or mishandling the situation.
The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education said Thursday it is conducting a special investigation on five teachers at a public school in Seodaemun-gu, central Seoul, over a series of sexual harassment cases involving over a hundred victims.
The school’s principal is among those being probed by the investigators for possible negligence and sexual harassment.
“The situation need not have escalated to such an extent had the principal sternly handled the situation when the first case occurred. If we find that the school attempted to conceal or downplay the incidents, it will be held responsible,” said Kim Hyeong-nam, a member of the SMOE audit team.
The SMOE, which pledged severe punishment for those confirmed of their crimes, also came under fire for having mismanaged the situation until the case was reported to the police and eventually the prosecution by one of the victim’s parents.
According to SMOE, the string of sexual violence cases started in February 2014. Some 130 students and eight teachers have so far testified to being sexual harassed.
One of the accused, a 50-something teacher, for instance, allegedly made sexual advances on a female teacher in her 30s during the faculty’s dinner outing despite her vehement protests, ripping off her clothes in the process. The victim has claimed that her request for a reprimand against the teacher was repeatedly ignored.
The supposed offender was placed on sick leave for about a year and transferred to another school in March, where he is still teaching. The decision to transfer a teacher to another school can only be finalized by the SMOE in case of high schools.
The principal told local media that he phoned the city education office before transferring the teacher in question, fueling suspicion that the situation was overlooked by the authorities.
“We are currently trying to figure out when exactly the SMOE found out about (the sexual harassment cases),” Kim said.