Sexual assault claims rock South Korean skating world

South Korea, “a world leader in speed skating” has recently faced sexual assault claims by female skaters against their male coaches.

“We consider the seriousness of violence, and sexual abuse in the sports field cannot be overlooked any longer,” said Choi Young-ae, chairwoman of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea at a press conference as quoted from BBC.

Earlier this month, gold medalist Shim Suk-hee—an Olympic short-track speed skater from South Korea—accused her former coach of raping her since she was 17 years old.

Coach Cho Jae-beom was found guilty of the rape of Suk-hee and three other skaters and is currently serving 10 months in prison. Cho was fired shortly before the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang due to allegations of physical abuse.  

Solidarity for Young Skaters represents the skaters in the case against Jae-beom, and on Jan. 21, announced that five more skaters came forward with sexual assault claims against their coaches. The group cited privacy concerns and did not reveal any names.

An anonymous 18-year-old skater, referred to as A, told CNN the abuse extended past sexual. “I used to get called into the coach’s room, where she would hit me with a skate blade 10 to 20 times,” she said. “I suffered muscle rupture, severe bruises and split skin. My older brother was beaten with a golf club.”

A’s abuse started when she was 11 years old and turned into sexual harassment at the age of 15 when a new male coach came into her life. He allegedly kissed her cheek, hugged her repeatedly and professed his love for her through two years of texts.

“I felt it was dirty; I was young back then,” she said “Had I known how wrong and serious it was, I would have told my mom instead of keeping it to myself.”

Some of the victims who came forward have been afraid to take legal action. According to BBC, they fear the repercussions coming forward could have on their future in the speed skating community. Sohn Hye-won, a lawmaker in South Korea, called for an investigation into former national coach Jeon Myeong-gyu, who holds massive influence in the skating world. Hye-won believes the former coach may have helped cover up the sexual assaults by using his influence at the Korea National Sport University.

“There has been frequent sexual abuse in the skating scene, but the offenders in most cases did not receive punishment; that’s because the coaches were members of the KNSU circle led by professor Jeon Myeong-gyu,” Hye-won said in a news conference on Jan. 21.

The recent exposure of sexual assault stories has reached high-ranking political figures in South Korea, including President Moon Jae-in, who commented, “The recent series of testimonies about violence and sexual assault in the sports industry represents our shame hidden beneath the glorious appearance of Korea as a sports powerhouse.”