Amid the nationwide spread of “Me Too” movement, a former employee of Janssen Korea has revealed her experience of sexual abuse by senior workers and client doctors during her seven-year time at the multinational drugmaker.
Started off by Prosecutor Seo Ji-hyun’s revelation of her experience of sexual harassment by a former Justice Ministry senior official, the movement is expanding to all areas of Korean society, including cultural and political circles.
The former Janssen employee, who recently left the company, sent out an e-mail to all employees of the drugmaker, telling how much she suffered from verbal sexual harassments and molestations while she was at Janssen. Right after college graduation, she joined the drugmaker as a salesperson and worked at the firm’s medical affairs and medical science divisions.
The victim, who wished to be unnamed, said she faced many sexual harassments and molestations by client professors at medical schools as well as by senior workers at Janssen.
“One of my clients was usually nice, but after some drinks with a meal, he suddenly changed and had my female colleagues seated both sides of him, and tried to hug them constantly. In broad daylight, a professor even suggested that I go to an overseas conference with him,” the former Janssen worker said in the e-mail.
Another professor, who was almost her father’s age, said, “Pharmaceutical workers for medical affairs should be intelligent as well as decadent, someone who makes men wanting to protect her.” “You’re pretty, and in good shape, so you’d better not roll your eyes. Now, you have a perfect face,” he said, according to the victim.
The whistleblower also alleged that sexual molestation and verbal violence were prevalent within Janssen Korea.
According to her, one of her seniors saw her bruises on the leg and said, “Who sucked your leg?” Another male worker got drunk, touched her bottoms and thighs, and demanded to hug when saying goodbye.
In a mobile group chat among some Janssen workers during Korean traditional holidays, a male employee sent a photo of a female doing a formal bow wearing a Hanbok skirt without a top.
She claimed that such behavior was shown not by just some employees but most of them.
“Many colleagues told me about even more serious experiences. I used to feel powerless when I couldn’t do anything but console my junior worker, who told me crying she would leave the company because a drunken client touched her,” she said in the e-mail.
She also noted that Janssen Korea had an unhealthy corporate culture to try to hush down the victim’s experiences. “If you tell such story, outsiders will ask what kind of your behavior made you experience it and treat you as if you’re a weirdo. You’d better not tell this to other people,” a Janssen worker said to the victim, according to the e-mail.
The victim, who works for another multinational drugmaker now, said she did not send the e-mail to point the perpetrators and ask for punishments. It was to ask the company to recognize sexual abuse issues and better deal with them.
“I have to go to work in the same industry. Within a small community like the pharmaceutical industry, I know my action will not help my career. But I hope that everyone in the community could be aware that violence exists within the company like the air,” she said. “I feel like a coward because I got to speak up as I leave the company. But things were too much to bear if I had to continue working at this company.”
The company reportedly notified the e-mail revelation to the headquarters in the U.S., as well as to Jenny Zheng, who was appointed as head of the Korean unit at the end of last year, after the e-mail was sent to all employees on Feb. 12. Janssen Korea’s management reportedly had an emergency meeting with the labor union.
“At the meeting, the labor union suggested setting up policies on how to educate employees about sexual molestation and cope with issues possibly raised between client doctors and Janssen employees, after fact-finding,” said a Janssen Korea official, who requested anonymity.
The Janssen official went on to say, “I’ve seen similar cases three times during my time at Janssen. In each case, the company had a strong action against the offender. I think the company is likely to take a stern measure if the victim agrees to a fact-checking process.”
Janssen Korea said it would take a strong action, after fact-finding.
“We’re aware of the alleged sexual harassments and actively investigating the case. As our company takes any kind of bullying as a violation of corporate rules, we’re serious about this case. If the reports are true, we take a disciplinary action through strong internal rules,” the company said.
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