In October of 2014, a 24-year-old man who raped a 12-year-old girl was given a 3-year sentence. (1)
In February of 2016, a man who repeatedly raped his daughter by feeding her juice with sleeping pills dissolved in the drink was given a 5-year sentence. (2)
In July of 2016, a police officer who repeatedly raped a teenager and tried to cover up his crimes with money when caught was given a 4-year sentence.
In August of 2016, a man who, taking advantage of his position as a manager in an entertainment company, sexually assaulted two female celebrities, was given a 4-year sentence.
In August of 2016, a man in his eighties who tried to sexually assaulted his neighbor, an older woman, was given a 6-year sentence.
(1) According to the rapist’s account, the girl had not resisted. The girl later appealed that she could do nothing but cry because the situation was too overwhelming for her and she was terrified of the rapist.
(2) The rapist was “heavily reflecting” on his crimes.
Laws regarding sexual harassment have received incessant criticism in South Korea. This trend amongst the people is mainly driven from the common idea that charges imposed on such criminals are often too light. Comments complaining about light charges often flood social media posts regarding such incidents.
Why do we continue to agree on this premise?
To start, it is important to take a look at the verbatim laws of Korea:
제297조(강간) 폭행 또는 협박으로 사람을 강간한 자는 3년 이상의 유기징역에 처한다.
제298조(강제추행) 폭행 또는 협박으로 사람에 대하여 추행을 한 자는 10년 이하의 징역 또는 1천500만원 이하의 벌금에 처한다.
Clause 297 of Korea’s criminal law states that one who rapes someone is subject to sentence for at least three years. Clause 298 of Korea’s criminal law states that one who sexually harasses someone is subject to sentence for less than ten years or a fine of less than 15,000,000 KRW.
There is already a hot pot of controversy on these very laws, the basis where we start; many view this outline of punishment as too vague and that they provide too much leeway for law abuse. The nature of these laws puts great power and influence on the judge to decide criminals’ fates.
Let’s go back to the first two examples on the top of the page:
An able-bodied man in his twenties who raped a twelve-year-old girl gets away with three years in prison because the girl didn’t cry louder.
A father, who raped his own daughter by drugging her, only receives a 5-year sentence because he was earnestly reflecting on his crime.
In other words, raping a person and possibly inflicting ineffable damage on him or her both physically and mentally is only worth a 3-4 year imprisonment. In other words, there is only 3-4 years left for a once-rapist, who could potentially rape others, to be free.
The Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office reported in 2010 that on average, 61.6% of sexual offenders in Korea repeat their crimes. The lack of consideration of these criminals’ intentions, honesty of their accounts, and their potential future crimes has made Korea the rapists’ shelter.
At the time the solution seems simple; revamp the laws and re-elect judges. But we need to stop and ask ourselves a few questions: would this change anything? What are our standards on deciding how severe these sentences should be? Does any sentence prove equal to the damage the victims receive? If no, what is the ideal compromise between rationality and requital?
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