This is tricky.
I’ve never been a big fan of Clara. My reasons weren’t particularly fair, but they were probably shared by many: I didn’t like that she made major mileage of the fact that she’d once been approached by SM, didn’t like that she invited netizens to find evidence that she’d ever had plastic surgery (when it took them approximately two seconds to come up with irrefutable proof), didn’t like her “music,” and so on.
But when I checked the news on January 14 to find that she had asked for a release of contract from Polaris due to sexual harassment, I was inclined to be sympathetic. I figured she must have ample evidence to support her claims, because she had to be almost crazy to make the accusation otherwise. South Korea is infamous for its low punishment rate for sexual offenders – very few who are charged with sexual crimes are actually convicted, and of those who are convicted, many still manage to avoid jail time or paying high fines. The backlash against those who press charges for sexual abuse, on the other hand, is often swift and thorough. People who come forward can face second victimization, where their claims, personal history, and character are publicly questioned and attacked. Police and employers are often complicit in pressuring victims to drop their charges.
Without strong evidence, Clara stood everything to lose and little to gain. So it was puzzling when evidence quickly emerged in favor of the CEO, and almost disappointing. Not because I wished that the harassment claims were true, obviously, but I hated the rush of vitriol from the media and netizens. I didn’t find it coincidental that Clara’s age “scandal” (being one whole year older than she’d claimed, gasp!) was mysteriously revealed by “industry insiders” after she made her claim. Nor did I think the actions for which she’d been criticized so thoroughly were even worth highlighting: talking up the Hong Kong press about future acting opportunities in China (as if no actor had ever expressed interest in entering a certain market), or refusing to attend the funerals of Ladies’ Code’s RiSe and EunB. I’m not claiming that Clara was perfectly right not to attend. But I am asking why there was so much attention paid to the fact that she didn’t.
Worse than these expose-style articles were the netizens’ quick and scathing judgment, which mostly seemed to boil down to: “Clara wanted attention again, so she claimed that she was sexually harassed.” Granted, Clara’s case does not look compelling at this point – but boy, is this a seriously crappy thing to say about any potential victim.
Clara’s character is irrelevant to her claims. Possessing an unpleasant personality does not somehow make a person immune to sexual harassment; it should therefore not be highlighted as proof the episode never happened. And while there is logic to arguing that the words of a known liar should not necessarily be trusted, I would argue that the potential harm in using that history against a legitimate victim far outweighs our need to make judgments. When people feel that it’s acceptable to label someone as a “liar” or “attention seeker” in order to delegitimize a claim he or she has made about sexual abuse, it’s easy to see why victims are so reluctant to come forward, and why perpetrators are able to get away with it as often as they do. One famous Hollywood entertainer allegedly used this to his advantage for decades, repeatedly choosing up-and-coming actresses and models to drug and assault. Anyone who tried to confront him could then be portrayed as a D-lister who simply wanted attention.
The Korea Entertainment Management Association (CEMA) seems to have taken sides on the matter, requesting that Clara cease her domestic and U.S. activities indefinitely. While this is valid to the extent that Clara had already sought a release from her contract, CEMA made the point of stating that their decision was also based on “the sensitive issue of sexual harassment [which] resulted in public controversy.” You can practically see the subtext: “Clara, we totally wish that you hadn’t claimed that you were sexually harassed, because that’s just a really sensitive and ugly topic, and we think you’re lying. We’ll have to ask you not to show your face anymore. You might think that we would want to wait for the court to examine all the evidence and make the verdict, but nah we’re good.” It may seem fairly clear to the public that Clara doesn’t have much ground to stand on. But whether we believe her or not, she’s entitled to a fair trial in court, and requesting the suspension of someone for making a claim of sexual harassment is a crap move. Did CEMA not consider the message that their statement would convey?
You may not like Clara or believe her story. But you should think twice before calling her an attention-seeking liar.
*The opinions expressed in this editorial are solely those of the author.