By Ju-min Park
SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea vowed on Thursday to strengthen laws against sexual assault and implement measures to reduce harassment as the #MeToo campaign sweeps the country and sparks calls for meaningful action to tackle sexual abuse.
Allegations of sexual assault against a rising star in the ruling Democratic Party, leveled by an aide in a dramatic television interview earlier this week marked a new high for the #MeToo movement in South Korea.
An Hee-jung, who had been seen as a future candidate for the presidency, quit his post as a provincial governor and announced his retirement from politics having taken responsibility in a Facebook post for actions which police are now investigating.
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His is the latest and most high profile in a lengthening list of scandals involving politicians and prominent figures from the country's religious community, and entertainment and literary worlds.
"We all had a big shock, and there's a higher consciousness now that women cannot experience such terrible things anymore," Chung Hyun-back, Minister of Gender Equality and Family Chung Hyun-back told a press conference on International Women's Day.
Chung credited the #MeToo campaign against sexual assault and harassment for bringing the issue to the surface in a South Korea's male-dominated society.
"The #MeToo movement is an event where boiling rage has finally erupted against gender-biased power relations and gender inequality, which have been a long, deep-rooted evil of our society," the minister said.
In response to mounting public outrage, the government said it plans to extend the statute of limitations for power-based sexual abuse cases, and the labor ministry would set up a process for victims to anonymously report sexual harassment at their workplaces.
The government was also considering toughening criminal punishment for employers found negligent in addressing sexual misdeeds, the ministry of gender equality said in a statement.
"We are focusing on sexual harassment and violence based on power relations," Chung said.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Josh Smith)