Court hears Australian woman rape victim case

Hannah Kim, June 8, 2016, 9:52 a.m.

A Seoul court on Wednesday began to hear a case involving an Australian woman who was allegedly drugged, abducted and raped during a night out in Seoul last year. Airdre Mattner, who now teaches English in Japan, came forward as a rape victim in March through her campaign to raise funds on the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe. The case shed light on Korea’s justice system and its alleged failure to protect sexual assault victims. 

“I feel exhausted. I have absolutely no faith in the Korean justice system whatsoever. I was treated with complete and utter contempt. Police refused to accept what they had done wrong and apologize for secondary damage they had caused,” Mattner told The Korea Herald ahead of the first hearing. “I don’t feel optimistic (about the upcoming trial).”

She has claimed that the police failed to collect sufficient evidence and inform her of the investigation process, in what she saw as slipshod and careless handling of her case.

Mattner did not appear for the first hearing held at Seoul Western District Court, during which her lawyers and the defendant went through the list of evidence including the CCTV footage and his DNA found on her body. 

The CCTV footage showed that two men took the victim to a motel in Itaewon, a multicultural district in central Seoul, where she said she was raped. She was in and out of consciousness at the time. 

But only one man, a 37-year-old Nigerian national illegally staying in the country, was indicted by the prosecution on the charge of semiforcible sexual molestation, not rape, which can carry a prison term of up to three years. He is expected to enter a plea at the next hearing. 

If he pleads not guilty and disapproves of the presented evidence, Mattner will be called in to testify in the courtroom. 

“According to the criminal law, the defendant was charged with semiforcible sexual molestation because only the DNA from the defendant’s saliva was found on the victim’s body,” said Joo Hyo-jung, a lawyer for Polaris & Partners representing Mattner. “A sexual crime is recognized as rape when the defendant penetrated the victim’s body.” 

Mattner, however, lamented that it is a sign of how the justice system is designed to believe and protect the suspect, not the victims. 

As her campaign drew international media attention, police sent an open letter addressed to Mattner on April 1 to “straighten misinformation” and refute the victim’s claims. The action immediately faced a wave of criticism for publicly humiliating the victim and revealing investigation details without consent. The police later took down the post and apologized for causing “unintended trouble.”

Earlier in the morning prior to the first hearing, several people turned up in front of the court at around 9:30 a.m. to stage a protest and call for justice for Mattner. In unison, they blasted what they saw as the police’s inaction to bring justice to alleged offenders. 

Sydney Langford, a 28-year-old dance instructor from the United States, said that she had joined the protest to support Mattner and ensure police do their job. 

“I feel they just try to push our cases under the rug and make it go away,” she said of her own experience. She said she was sexually assaulted six years ago by a man in his 60s at a gym in Anyang, Gyeonggi Province. She was paid 1 million won ($860) in return for dismissing the case. 

“I tried to take the man to the court and put him in jail, but police told me not to as he was old and (a) first-time offender,” she said, holding up the poster reading “Protect victims, not rapists. Believe victims, not rapists.” “There seems to be no change at all in the justice system failing sexual assault victims.”

Lee Won-yun, a 25-year-old doctor who has closely followed Mattner’s case, noted that reporting of sexual assault is not an easy task for many women in the country due in part to the social atmosphere blaming and frowning upon rape victims. 

“Suspecting victims’ testimonies deters victims to report their cases to authorities, which is why I think there would be many rape cases remaining unreported,” she said. “Mattner was so brave to address the important issue on behalf of foreign as well as Korean victims here.” 

“These women are being failed by the very system which should be supporting them, protecting them and providing them with justice,” Mattner said. “It has taken an immense toll on me mentally, physically and emotionally. But as long as I am able, I will continue to fight for both my own justice and the change which is so desperately needed.” 

The next hearing is scheduled for June 15. 

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