[Viewpoint]Everyone deserves a right to chooseTwo noteworthy draft revisions are pending at the Legislation and Judiciary Committee of the National Assembly. They are both revisions of the Criminal Code ― one proposed by lawmaker Im Jong-in of the Uri Party on April 18 and the other by Yeom Dong-yeon of the same party in November of last year.
Im’s revision includes drastic changes in the scope of sexual offenses, including a proposal to change the title of a criminal offense that involves sexual violence from “a criminal act of rape and a sexual attack against women” (Chapter 32 of the Criminal Code) to “a criminal offense that violates a person’s right to make one’s own sexual decision.”
The essence of lawmaker Yeom’s proposal is to abolish adultery as a criminal offense. Yeom also emphasizes that “the right to make one’s own sexual decisions” is an important concept. Specifically, he said, “it has been pointed out that adultery has provided the government an excuse to excessively intervene in people’s privacy by making a person liable to be punished by imprisonment.”
Sexual inclinations and behavior are personal rights. The issue comes up in “Dinner Party,” the first film directed by Liom Sang-su. Protagonist Ho-jeong, the president of a design company played by actress Kang Su-yeun, complained to her friends after she was summoned by police on charges of adultery.
She said, “Adultery? Since when are police detectives and prosecutors managing the lower half of my body?”
But draft revisions have been pending at the National Assembly for the past one and half years.
It may be that because the Ten Commandments teach people not to commit adultery, so a not-so-small number of people, even among members of women’s movement organizations, insist adultery should remain punishable under the law, especially because it can be used by socially weak wives to punish adulterous husbands and get economic compensation from them.
Lawmaker Im, who proposed the law jointly with Yeom to abolish adultery as a criminal offense, said, “There are many lawmakers who agree with the abolishment of adultery at private meetings, but refrain from publicly making remarks in support.”
According to a draft revision proposed by Im, the current special law on the prevention of sexual offenses will be integrated into the Criminal Code. The new law considers victims of sexual offenses to be “victims whose right to make sexual decisions are violated,” instead of “a woman whose chastity is violated,” as it is in the existing law. It has discarded the traditional reference to woman’s virtue, which has mainly worked against them.
For example, Article 297 of the current Criminal Code stipulates that “those who rape a woman with violence or by using intimidation will be punished by more than three years in prison.” But the Article 299 of the draft revision demands that “those who rape people with violence, using intimidation or an overwhelmingly powerful influence will be punished by more than two years in prison.” As the object of sexual violence shifts from women to “people,” not only the rape of a man by a woman, but also rape cases involving homosexuals can be punished under the law. The draft revision officially recognizes criminal assault between husband and wife, too, but abolishes the criminal charge on adultery under the pretext of marriage.
The most special feature and controversial aspect of the draft revision is the fact that it considers a “sexual action without consent” as the basic condition of a sexual offense. That would be punishable by less than one year in prison or a fine of 5 million won ($5,394) while “adultery without consent” can be punished by less than three years in prison or a fine of 10 million won. The logic of the law is that violation of the right to make one’s own sexual choices constitutes a criminal offense because everyone has the right to make that decision.
The problem is deciding the scope of sexual action without consent. If the draft revision is enacted without any changes, kissing a woman by surprise, which is often featured in television dramas nowadays, can constitute a crime if the woman is opposed. If men are not sure whether the woman agrees, it would be better for them to go into action only after getting a signature on a written agreement.
Although there are a few controversial points in the draft revisions, I completely agree with the basic intent of the two draft revisions.
They stipulate criminal offenses on the basis of the rights of individuals, not like the current law, which is largely biased by the male’s point of view. I also think they are in accord with the changing perception of the people on relations between men and women.
The two draft laws have a long way to go. I hope our society will have a lot more debates on pros and cons as soon as possible.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun
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