[Viewpoint]Tighten up laws on child crimes

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[Viewpoint]Tighten up laws on child crimes

T he police department’s failure to act quickly in response to the attempted kidnapping of a schoolgirl in Ilsan has enraged the whole nation.
The brutal attack, on the heels of the Christmas Day murder of two other schoolgirls, Lee Hye-jin and Woo Ye-seul, makes it seem like heinous crimes are breaking out all over the country.
Parents are extremely frightened for their children.
The arrested suspect, a 41-year-old named Lee, spent 10 years in jail for repeated assaults on children.
His calm attitude was unpardonable. He put on a hat to obscure his face and violently attacked the child in front of a security camera, forcing the girl out of the elevator.
When a neighbor living on the ground floor found them, the attacker fled upstairs, using the same elevator, and disappeared.
Despite the fact that he violently attacked the child and there were signs he was going to molest her, the police classified the case as a “simple assault.”
The incident could have been forgotten, since the police lacked the will to investigate it at first.
It took the efforts of the child’s parents and media coverage of the case to cause President Lee Myung-bak to step in.
The culprit was arrested four hours and 30 minutes after the president scolded the police.
What would have happened if the president had not stepped in? What would have happened if the press had not carried continuous reports about the case?
I can’t help but wonder.
The culprit’s cool, laid-back demeanor was not due to a mental disorder or alcoholism.
It was due to the fact that our society is defenseless against child molestation.
Crimes against children are treated lighter than robberies or burglaries. Sometimes they are treated on the same level as the trifling misdeeds of a drunk or a lunatic.
Because of such precedents, the minds of the victimized children are devastated and the hearts of their parents are aching.
The police are being criticized severely by the people due to the Ilsan attack.
However, it is not only the police, but also the society as a whole, that are responsible for allowing the situation to become so serious.
At present, only about 20 percent of the child molestation cases are prosecuted.
Most cases are not even acknowledged as criminal offenses on the reasoning that the statements of the child victims are not consistent or the evidence is lacking.
Even if they are prosecuted on criminal charges, most suspects are found not guilty.
In many cases, the assailants go to the victim or the victim’s parents and threaten them, asking them to withdraw the charges or attempting to force a cash settlement. For the victims, the government does not provide any particular protection from such threats or attempts by offenders to pay for their silence.
Offenders are found guilty in less than 20 percent of cases and usually end up with a jail term of only one and a half to two years. The prison term is made a little longer if the offender has a record of similar crimes, or is convicted of raping, not just molesting, a victim.
Since most sexual attacks involving children include perverted sexual acts, however, there is a greater chance they will be judged as simple molestations, not rape.
While they are kept in custody, the culprits do not get any special treatment for the root causes which made them child molesters.
Since the law guarantees the right to receive the same treatment as all other inmates, forcing them to receive psychotherapy could constitute a violation of human rights.
In the end, they are released without any medical treatment that might help stop a recurrence of their crimes.
Their personal information is made available to the public when they are released, but there is no way a resident living in Ilsan can get information about a person living in Gangnam, for example.
The most serious problem is that those who regularly commit these crimes know about the loose legal system better than anyone.
The culprit Lee knew the video footage taken by the CCTV security cameras in Ilsan would not provide enough information to lead police to his home in Gangnam.
Even if he did get arrested, he knew he would not be found guilty if he denied the crime or said he did not remember anything because he was drunk.
He also knew he would not get a severe punishment if he said his purpose was not sexual molestation, but simply to hit her a few times because he did not like the arrogant way the child was looking at him.
Those who commit such crimes repeatedly become more cunning. Those who have sexually molested helpless children know all too well the loopholes in our legal system.
We need a countermeasure against this unacceptable situation, and urgently.

*The writer is a professor of criminal psychology at Kyonggi University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Soo-jung
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