After nearly 40 years, South Korean women victimized by military personnel during an anti-government protest are nearing closure after an official apology was released Wednesday.
"On behalf of the government and military, I bow deeply and offer my words of apology for the unspeakable, deep scars and pain inflicted on innocent victims," Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said after an investigation confirmed the rape, sexual assault, and sexual torture of at least 17 women.
Opposition protests emerged in the spring of 1980 following the emergence of martial law and the city of Gwangju became the epicenter of mobilizations. That May, thousands of troops were deployed to control the outbursts and police brutality manifested into beatings, torture, sexual assaults, and- in some cases- disembowelment, the BBC reports.
During this time, over 200 people were either killed or disappeared, official figures report, although activist groups say the actual number is at least three times greater.
Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon offered his own sympathies Tuesday, saying, “Unjustly mobilized state power trampled on women's lives... I feel inexplicably terrible."
Past allegations were dismissed, however with the rise of the #MeToo movement in Asia and the election of President Moon Jae-in, who made the human rights violations in Gwangju a primary campaign issue, victims were empowered and emboldened to revisit the case.
The investigation was launched after one survivor, Kim Sun-ok, shared her story with the media last May.
"I didn't listen to (the apology) because of my traumatic experience...But unless those responsible are brought to justice and duly punished, a million apologies would be meaningless," Kim told AFP.
Students, young pregnant women, and teenagers were victimized during the brutal military crackdown which was triggered by protests following after General Chun Doo-hwan’s 1979 military coup.