“Gender Matters in the Judiciary: Adjudicating Sexual Assault in Korea”


Dr. Lisa Hilbink

Committee Members

Dr. Teri Caraway

Dr. Michael Minta

Dr. Herbert Kritzer (University of Minnesota Law School)


My dissertation explores if and how the gender and hierarchy of judges influence their decision-making in rape cases. Although the #MeToo movement has had some success in transforming how people talk and think about gender-based crimes in many countries, courts have not changed much. When female victims turn to courts for relief and justice, judges and attorneys use sexist language about a victim’s sex life or appearance to trivialize violence and excuse the perpetrator. In the face of such problems, increasing the number of women judges on the bench has been considered a potentially important part of the solution. Yet, apart from a few reports, empirical evidence on this issue is entirely absent in most countries. The scholarship on gender and judging has been predominantly focused on the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Australia, all of which have common law systems. I argue that the focus on a handful of Western common law countries has overlooked the role of court structures and institutions as the moderator of the gender effect. My dissertation in turn focuses on South Korea—a civil law country characterized by the absence of jury trials, hierarchical organization, and three-judge panels to explore a gender and rank effect.

During my 15 months of fieldwork in Seoul, South Korea, I observed court proceedings, created an original dataset of 768 rape cases, and interviewed 42 judges, prosecutors, and attorneys. My quantitative analysis and my in-depth interviews support my conclusion of a gender and rank effect in collegial courts, and I further find that sentence length increases with the rank of female opinion writers and decreases with that of male opinion writers. This study contributes theoretical insights to broader debates on sentencing disparity, gender and judging, and gender and politics. More than half of the global population currently lives under civil law systems, and my research thus has significant implications for policy—especially for lawmakers and activists aiming to effect change in cases involving sexual violence.

Acknowledgment of Support

This project has been supported by internal grants such as Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship (DDF), Thesis Research Travel Grant (TRTG), and Leadership in Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Fellowship (LEID) from the University of Minnesota Graduate School, and external grants such as Huang Hsing Chun-tu Hsueh International Fellowship Fund, a research grant from the American Political Science Association’s Centennial Center, and APSA Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (DDRIG), a fund of National Science Foundation.

Photos from the Field Research

Collection of photos from the field research, Summer 2019 – Fall 2020

Photos from the Academic Conferences

WPSA Conference, Portland, OR, March 2022
SPSA Conference, San Antonio, TX, January 2022