[Viewpoint]Compensation for crime victims

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[Viewpoint]Compensation for crime victims

Case 1: A jobless man in his 30s set fire to a lodging house in Nonhyeon-dong, Seoul and randomly wielded a knife at those trying to escape, killing six people. Due to his hateful crime, innocent people were murdered, including an ethnic Korean woman from China who was working at a neighborhood restaurant.

The suspect had no financial abilities, so there is no way for the victims’ families to obtain any compensation, not to mention the cost for funerals. And yet, the police put a hat on the suspect and covered his face with a mask to protect his human rights.

Case 2: In April 1969, the decapitated body of Hiroshi Kagami, a first-year student at a Tokyo high school, was found near his school. The killer was revealed the next day, and surprisingly, the killer was the victim’s classmate. The killer said the victim had often bullied him. When he showed his knife to the victim, the victim said, “You look like a pig.” The killer told the police that he just randomly wielded the knife.

He was locked up at a juvenile correctional facility. After the incident, the victim’s father, who developed a gambling addiction, tried to quell his sorrow with religion. Twenty years later, the father died of cancer.

The victim’s mother also changed. Cursing became a part of her life, and she also fainted frequently. The victim’s sister also went through a rough youth, suffering from self-inflicted physical injuries.

According to the book by Shuji Okuno, a freelance journalist who investigated the case in 1997, the killer spent only three years in the correctional facility. He was adopted by the mistress of his father, taking a new name. He graduated from a prestigious university and became a lawyer. The number of serious crimes grows year by year, but getting compensation is a long and winding road for victims. Hateful crimes, just like case 1 in Seoul, are recently on the rise.

According to the National Police Agency, 544 impulsive murder suspects and 813 arson suspects were arrested last year alone. The problem is that such suspects have nearly no financial ability and victims are little compensated.

The state has a system for providing compensation to a victim of a criminal, because a nation is responsible to protect its citizens from crimes. And yet, the compensation is embarrassingly low. Even for a murder victim, the maximum compensation is 10 million won ($7,098). Others physically injured by criminals receive up to 6 million won.

In contrast, Japan has recently raised the state compensation for the homicide victim’s family to as much as 29.645 million yen, an amount that equals more than 400 million won. The compensation for physical injuries caused by crime is also high: up to 39.744 million yen.

The Japanese government allocated 2.23 billion yen for such compensation this year, translating to more than 30 billion won. In comparison, Korea allocated only 1.6 billion won.

For the system to be effective here, standards to receive compensation should also be eased. Today, the compensation is only given out when the criminal offender is unidentified or insolvent. Furthermore, a victim cannot receive the compensation when the offender is a relative.

Such restrictions must be eased for victims to have easy access to the compensation.

Not only the medical fees but also loss of income and funeral fees should be provided by revising the compensation system.

We should not just sit around and complain about the budget. The Crime Victims Fund of the United States is a good example. As of 2005, the fund has raised more than $13 billion through of punitive fines and other revenues. The money is used to cover for medical expenses, lawyer fees and funeral costs for victims, as well as income loss.

Criminals’ human rights should be protected. However, we should not see another tragic example such as Kagami’s family in case 2. In order achieve this, the state must do everything to ease the agony of the victims of criminals.

*The writer is chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Shin Sung-ho
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