The suicide of Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon has shocked the nation. Not only was he the first-ever three-term mayor of the capital, but was also a strong presidential contender. Nobody imagined he would end his life in such a tragic way. Park wrote in his suicide note that he is “sorry to everyone” and police said a criminal report had been filed by his former secretary accusing the late mayor of sexual harassment. Park was a decorated human rights lawyer and spearheaded civic activism in Korea, not least women’s rights. He defended a female victim in a landmark case back in the 1980s and a self-proclaimed feminist. That is why the accusation came as such a shock.
It remains alarming to see so many high-profile people in the country take their own lives. Former President Roh Moo-hyun committed suicide by jumping off a cliff while he was being investigated for a corruption after his term ended, and suicides in the entertainment industry have become almost commonplace. That has a profound negative effect on others who suffer from depression or other problems.
Suicides among the famous breed copycats. Korea has the highest suicide in the OECD, and the popular view or even glorification of suicide as a solution to all problems contributed immensely to this unenviable record. Taking one’s own life is seen as a way of covering up mistakes and even catapults the suicide to posthumous stardom.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government pushed through an official, five-day funeral for the late mayor and set up a huge altar downtown. But a petition on the Cheong Wa Dae website urging the mayor’s family to hold a private ceremony instead drew over half a million signatories. Signatories are wondering why the city is honoring an accused sex offender who took his own life apparently out of shame. Many others ask why taxpayers’ money is being used to pay for it. Park’s death is a tragedy, but it must be distinguished from the noble sacrifices made by other civil servants in the line of duty.
An even more alarming development is a drive by some people to name and shame the woman who made the accusations. Shaming the victim is another form of assault against the woman. Do these people wish the victim had stayed silent? Koreans must take a long, hard look at themselves to find the root of this malaise.
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