[Viewpoint]A crying needTo our regret, the spring arrived in Korea along with horrific news of the sexual molestation and murder of children. One case involved the discovery of the bodies of two schoolgirls, Hye-jin and Ye-seul, a few months after they were reported missing. They were the victims of a murderous pedophile. Not long after this was an attempted kidnapping and assault on another primary schoolgirl in Ilsan. Although the child was rescued before she came to more serious harm, her narrow escape came by chance.
Hearing about the two cases, I felt extremely ashamed and couldn’t help blaming myself. I felt so not only as a person who works for the prevention of sexual abuse of children and provides support to victims, but also as an adult member of society with a duty to protect children.
This was not the first time we failed to protect children from crimes; these incidents call for reflection on what adults and society has done for them, what children need and what we should do.
The Korean government started to give its full attention to sex crimes committed against children on June 13, 2004, when the Sunflower Children’s Center, a one-stop support center for child victims of sexual abuse, opened.
In response to people’s demands for strong punishment of criminals who commit sexual crimes against children, the government and the National Assembly put in place various policy guidelines and laws and worked hard to find alternative prevention measures.
Among the measures proposed were the idea of attaching electronic bracelets to sexual offenders, imposing longer jail terms or making public the personal information of such offenders.
However, even in the face of the government’s preventive system and measures against criminals who prey on children, Hye-jin and Ye-seul were kidnapped, assaulted and brutally murdered, and another schoolgirl was brutalized in an attempted kidnapping and assault by a pedophile in the elevator of her own apartment building in Ilsan. And similar crimes seem to be occurring continually.
This proves that strengthening punishment of sexual offenders is not enough to prevent sexual crimes against children.
Moreover, the courts had often acknowledged that sexual assault may have taken place, but the prosecution failed to convict the accused.
There are laws that demand stronger punishments for sex crimes committed against children, but the courts can decide whether they are applicable on a case-by-case basis.
Such rulings force the child victims and their parents, who have gone through a difficult time during investigation, to endure pain and psychological devastation again and again. In order to prevent sexual assault of children and root out sex crimes, the preventive measures against sex crimes aimed at children should be executed in the context of child safety, not simply as crime prevention.
How can this be done? Do we have to stand by helplessly, while such crimes continue to occur?
First of all, adults in society should enhance their awareness of child protection as soon as possible. It is not the children’s responsibility to look out for their own safety. All efforts should be concentrated on finding ways that adults can provide a systematic and thorough safety net to safeguard our children.
And people should also be aware that the ultimate goal of crime prevention education does not lie in enabling children to defend themselves. Parents, teachers and all grown-ups in our society, who have the responsibility and duty to safeguard children, should be educated first.
Second, starting with the family, which has the primary responsibility for raising children, schools and local communities around the nation should all design and implement comprehensive safety and welfare policies suitable to their respective roles and functions.
Parents should be able to take care of their children while they are at an age requiring absolute care. In case the parents cannot take care of their children, the government should provide welfare facilities or a system in which parents can place their children with confidence.
Third, from a legal point of view, investigation skills should be improved and strengthened along with the strengthening of punishment for offenders.
We urgently need to establish an investigation system specializing in child sex crimes, which separate from procedures for handling adult cases, and to clarify the kinds of harm and damage such crimes do to child victims.
This is the only way we can break away from the all-too-frequent situation where sex crimes are committed against children but no culprits are found to be responsible.
*The writer is the head of the Sunflower Children’s Center and a former professor at Korea Nazarene University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Choi Kyung-sook