An official alleged to have been a serial sexual and violent offender toward female soldiers has been reprimanded by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the military has been ordered to create a culture of respect toward female soldiers, local sources report.
Kim Jong Un, like his predecessors Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, has made efforts to visit bases with female soldiers, using their loyalty toward the regime for propaganda purposes domestically and abroad. However, North Korean leaders have not taken any special measures to improve the poor environment in which female soldiers work, including inadequate food rations and safeguards against sexual assault.
Former female soldiers who have defected have long noted that female soldiers are openly victim to malnutrition, sexual assault, abusive language and poor treatment by their superiors. Observers are now watching to see whether Kim’s order to improve the work environment for female soldiers will actually lead to any improvements.
“There is now a ‘battle’ to crack down on situations where male military officers spew abuse at female soldiers and bully them into doing sexual favors for them,” said a North Hamgyong Province-based source.
The directive was sent to all military bases in the country and included a requirement that petitions concerning inappropriate bribes or violence toward female soldiers be submitted (to the central government).
“Lectures described the case that led to Kim Jong Un’s order: a sexual assault case in a Pyongyang military hospital,” the source reported, explaining that a group petition was submitted in regards to the sexual assault committed by a regimental commander toward female military doctors and nurses at the hospital, and the Central Party conducted an investigation into the incident.
The regimental commander, who oversaw operations at the hospital, called female military doctors and nurses to his office or home and ordered them to give him nutritional injections or massages. After complying with his order, they fell victim to his sexual advances. The regimental commander reportedly threatened his victims, saying he would block their applications to become party members.
Ultimately, one of the nurses that fell victim to the regimental commander’s advances became pregnant. She was ordered to have an abortion and dishonorably discharged from the military. This led a group of female military doctors and nurses to submit a group petition.
Female defectors who served as soldiers in the military say that such incidents are common in the North Korean military and that women who fall victim to sexual assault and become pregnant find it difficult to become party members or enter university. They are dishonorably discharged and frequently try to hide their pregnancy by taking an anthelmintic to induce an abortion.
One former North Korean female soldier stated during a press conference organized by the defector women’s group, New Korea Women’s Union, in April 2016: “When I worked as a nurse in the North Korean army, the head nurse was subjected to sexual assault on what seemed like a daily basis from a military officer.”
“The head nurse complained about this to the Party,” she said, “but the military officer was not punished. Instead, she was dishonorably discharged from the military.”
Regarding the Pyongyang military hospital incident in question, a source in Pyongyang added, “The Marshal [Kim Jong Un] received a report of what happened at the military hospital in Pyongyang and became very angry. He ordered that those at fault be punished and that they never wear a military uniform again.”
“He even ordered that female soldiers be treated with respect,” she said.
“Female soldiers hope that the order will help to stop acts of sexual assault and other abuse by their superiors, but so much of these acts occur in secret that there’s little chance things will get better anytime soon.”