TORONTO — A high-level taekwondo coach gradually took control of a teenage student’s life, abusing his position of trust as he began a years-long stretch of escalating sexual assaults that culminated in rape, a Toronto judge ruled Thursday.
Shin Wook Lim was found guilty of 10 charges, including sexual assault and sexual interference, in connection with a series of incidents involving an elite athlete who trained with him at the Black Belt World martial arts studio in Toronto.
The incidents took place in a number of locations, including training camps in South Korea, between 2015 and 2017, Ontario Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy said in her ruling.
But she noted Lim, also a former Taekwondo Canada coach, began behaving inappropriately towards the girl before then: sending “suggestive” text messages and instructing her to delete them, commenting on how beautiful she was, and hugging her in his office.
“Bit by bit, Mr. Lim took control over all aspects of her life, deliberately excluding her mother, and directing (the teen) to keep information away from her. He built a culture of secrecy, not just one of trust. Then he began the precursors to sexual assault,” Molloy wrote.
“When the sexual assaults started to happen, they came in small increments, progressing from long hugs to kissing, and then to touching above the clothes, and then under the clothes, then penetration, and finally rape,” she said.
With each escalation, the girl, now 21, “accepted this small change as her ‘new normal,’” the judge said.
Lim, who is in his 40s, did not testify at his trial, but court heard from another witness that he proclaimed his innocence and dismissed the allegations as lies when speaking to a group of friends.
Molloy addressed this in her ruling, saying Lim’s “bald denial to friends in a social setting” did not cause her to have a reasonable doubt as to his guilt.
Defence lawyers had also questioned the complainant’s credibility and reliability, flagging more than a dozen inconsistencies in her account of the incidents and suggesting her memory may have been tainted by a paper she wrote for a university criminology course after leaving the sport.
In that paper, the complainant analyzed the case of a Winnipeg taekwondo coach convicted of sexually assaulting a number of his students, court heard.
During her testimony, the complainant said she had “never really processed” what happened to her and neither researching nor writing the paper stirred up any new insights into her experiences. Instead, the epiphany that she had been sexually assaulted came later, when she was listening to a lecture in that same course, she told the court.
While it “may seem odd” that the complainant didn’t make that connection earlier, particularly when writing the paper, that does not make her account untrue, nor does it render her memories unreliable, the judge wrote.
It does not appear that the incidents reported by the complainant resemble the details of what happened in the other case, “except in superficial ways common to most victims of assault at the hands of an authority figure,” Molloy said.
Furthermore, the inconsistencies highlighted by the defence do not undermine her credibility or reliability as to the core of the charges, she said.
The complainant joined the elite training program in 2013, after obtaining her first-degree black belt, according to the ruling. She also attended an annual, two-week summer training camp in South Korea from 2014 to 2017, it said.
The first sexual assault took place in May 2015, when the complainant was 15, she testified. While in his office, Lim asked her to kiss him and when she walked away, he pulled her back, pressed her against a wall and kissed her, she said. The coach told her this would make her more comfortable with him and she should trust him, she said.
Though she tried to avoid him after that, he stressed the need for them to be close and ”the kissing sessions continued,” the document said.
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The complainant told the court that Lim then progressed to other sexual acts, including digital penetration. Similar incidents took place at the studio’s office in Vaughan, Ont., and at Lim’s apartment as other students waited downstairs, she testified.
During a summer training camp in Muju, South Korea, in 2015, Lim called her to his hotel room and performed oral sex on her as she lay “frozen,” trying to keep her legs together, the complainant testified. Afterwards, he put her hand down his pants and made her touch his genitals, she said.
There were many similar incidents of “kissing and touching” that fall through 2017 at his Toronto office, court heard.
Another incident took place at her home, and one at a training camp in Gurye, South Korea, in 2016, where she testified that Lim made her masturbate him.
The final sexual assault took place at a training camp in South Korea the following summer, when she was 17, court heard. She testified that Lim made her perform oral sex on him and then penetrated her. The complainant said she didn’t know what was going on because she had never had sexual intercourse before.
“She described herself as being in a ‘brainwashed state’ in which she would never challenge Mr. Lim’s authority,” the judge wrote.
“It was only after turning 18, starting university, and being away from taekwondo for a while that she started thinking for herself and questioning what had gone on before,” Molloy said, adding she found it a plausible explanation for why the complainant didn’t report the incidents until 2018.
The court is set to hear submissions next week on whether some of the charges Lim was convicted on Thursday should be stayed because they overlap with each other.
He also faces another five charges related to sex offences against another teen student, which are set to be tried separately later this year.
Neither complainant can be identified due to a publication ban.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Jan. 14, 2021.
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press