[Viewpoint] New measures for child sex crimes

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[Viewpoint] New measures for child sex crimes

The conclusion to a savage rape case involving an eight year old has caused outrage. Many think the 12-year jail term given to the defendant was insufficient for such a brutal crime.

No one can blame the public for becoming so enraged about a sexual assault on a child, but there is a need to approach the problem calmly and not to react purely in an emotional way.

First, it is inappropriate to overly criticize the judgment handed out in the trial. The judge has made a judgment within the framework of the law. The maximum sentence for imprisonment for rape under the criminal law is 15 years, and the recommended sentence for the rape of a child is seven to 11 years.

The judge in charge of this case gave a sentence higher than the standard, 12 years, and ordered the defendant to wear an electronic anklet when he is eventually released to prevent him committing further sex crimes. The sentence is actually very heavy under the current system.

However, what is questionable is the judgment that the defendant was too drunk for rational decision making and the decision of the prosecution not to appeal against the judgment.

Most proposals for revisions to the law that have been presented after the sentencing in this case was made public argue demand that people who sexually molest children should be given heavier sentences.

But while making jail sentences longer for certain crimes is great publicity for politicians, the effect on deterring crime has not yet been confirmed. But even if the National Assembly strengthens sentences or introduces more extreme punishments such as castration for sex crimes, we must keep in mind that such laws might later be nullified for being unconstitutional.

There are more urgent and effective measures that are needed to eliminate sex crimes against children.

First, we need to introduce a program for helping child victims in the course of an investigation and trial. The defendant in this recent rape case was found guilty, but around 40 percent of defendants in child rape cases are not prosecuted due to a lack of evidence. The children involved in the crimes frequently make inconsistent statements because they are in a state of mental shock, and defendants’s lawyers dig deep into the holes in the victims’ statements and strongly deny criminal charges.

Like in other countries, it is necessary for investigators to secure a child’s statement systematically, from the beginning of the case in cooperation with child psychology experts. This development would make it easier to prosecute criminals and reach a guilty verdict.

Second, there is a need to revise the law so that there is no statute of limitations in child sexual molestation cases until the child victim becomes an adult, or the statute of limitations is extended. Many children do not know what happened to them or do not reveal what happened because of shame or fear. Sometimes the child victim only realizes what he or she has been through or only finds the courage to stand up to a criminal many years later. But by then the statute of limitations is already over.

The problem is, the statute of limitations system fails to take into account the psychological state of children, which often benefits criminals.

Third, we have to find a way to stop convicted offenders from committing sex crimes in the future. Pedophiles should be treated by experts by putting them under preventive custody, and criminals who make it out of jail should not only wear electronic anklets but also be observed full time.

An additional system should prevent convicted child molesters from approaching child-related facilities such as childcare centers and kindergartens.

*The writer is a professor at the Seoul National University Graduate School of Legal Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Cho Kuk
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