SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s air force chief stepped down Friday in the face of public anger over the death of a female master sergeant whose family says she killed herself after being sexually abused by a male colleague.
President Moon Jae-in’s office said he accepted the resignation of air force Chief of Staff Gen. Lee Seong-yong, who earlier issued a statement to reporters saying he acknowledges “heavy responsibility” over the woman’s death.
Lee’s resignation came a day after the Defense Ministry said an air force master sergeant had been arrested on suspicion that he had molested the woman inside a car in March while returning to their base after a dinner meeting.
According to a presidential petition filed by the woman’s family, she reported the case to her superiors but killed herself in May after they tried to cover up the incident and pressured her to reach a private settlement with her abuser.
As of Friday afternoon, more than 340,000 people had signed the petition, which called for the punishment of air force officials involved in any cover-up.
The public anger prompted Moon to order the military on Thursday to conduct a thorough investigation on how the air force handled the case.
South Korea’s military has long been criticized for its failures to protect female troops and officers from sexual harassment and violence.
In 2017, a female naval officer killed herself after being raped by a senior officer, who later was sentenced to 15 years in prison. In 2013, a female army officer killed herself after being harassed by a male superior who pressured her to have sex with him. He was sentenced to two years in prison.