How should Korea combat paedophilia?
The Korea Herald/Asia News Network
By John Power
Police officers lining a road as residents and members of the media gather following the apprehension of a suspect in a high-profile rape case in the southwestern city of Naju, after a seven-year-old girl was abducted on August 30 from her home and raped.
The kidnap and rape of a 7-year-old girl in Naju, South Jeolla Province, earlier this month has reopened the debate on how to deal with society's most reviled criminals. Like the case of Cho Doo-soon, who brutally raped an 8-year-old girl in 2008, Ko Jong-seok's heinous act has sparked a raft of proposals from lawmakers and law enforcement to deal with those who prey on children. In the days after the attack, the National Police Agency announced one month of increased police patrols and a crackdown on child pornography, while a lawmaker from the Saenuri Party, Rep. Park In-sook, proposed a bill that would allow for the physical castration of child rapists.
"How much these children suffer is unbelievably much, much more than the penalty they (the perpetrators) receive from the judge," Park, a cardiologist by profession, told The Korea Herald on Friday.
Park rejected the suggestion that the procedure would be at odds with the principles of a civilized society, adding that it has few side effects and does not even require a general anesthetic.
"These children live with permanent damage, physically, mentally, and psychologically, neurologically … and economically … So if you compare the human rights of these criminals with the victims, whose human rights are more important? Who should be protected? It is just incomparable," she said, pointing out that Finland, the Czech Republic and Germany, among other countries, allow the practice.
Park, who has also proposed the introduction of a smartphone application that would alert users to the location of convicted sex offenders within a 1 km radius, added that a recent opinion poll showed that 96 per cent of Koreans support her castration bill proposal.
"This is the philosophy I had all my life but I had no chance to speak to the public until I came to the National Assembly," she said. "Also, the important thing is these crimes are getting worse and becoming more often."
When it comes to an effective legal response to those who target children, understanding more about the scale and nature of the problem is crucial, said Korean Institute of Criminology research fellow Kim Han-kyun.
"The first step we need to take is to study and research the real reality of pedophiles and sex offenders against children in our society, then we may have specific and substantive measures against pedophiles," said Kim. "But the problem is no one knows yet how many pedophiles there are in our society and (how) serious the problem of pedophiles is now at the moment in our society."
While it is unclear how many pedophiles exist in Korea ― US estimates put the figure there at around 4 per cent of the population ― recorded sex crimes against the young have risen in recent years. The number of cases of sexual assault and rape against minors soared from 857 in 2007 to 2,054 last year. Even more strikingly, the offender in 43 per cent of cases from January to June 2011 involving victims under 13 received a suspended sentence. Where prison sentences have been applied, they have often been seen by the public as excessively lenient. Cho Doo-soon's attack on the 8-year-old known only as Na-young led to a 12-year prison sentence, a punishment widely denounced as too light for a crime that left a school girl with permanent, life-changing injuries.
"The statutory punishment on sex offenders and sex offenders against children is severe enough but the problem is the sentencing," said Kim. "Although South Korean legislators have made very strict and severe punishment, the judges have given soft sentences. I think the sentencing guidelines for sex offences against child should be amended for more harsh and strict sanctions on such offenders."
A conservative, male-dominated judiciary is likely part of the reason for soft sentencing, added Park.