[Viewpoint] More elderly turn to violent measuresTwo articles recently caught my attention. One reported a 79-year-old senior male arrested for sexual harassment of a 22-year-old saleswoman. In another article, a 67-year-old man murdered an acquaintance who used swear words against him. In a village in Jangheung, South Jeolla, sexual assaults against mentally disabled female victims were committed mostly by “grandfathers.”
Recently a video clip of a young pregnant woman engaged in a brawl with elderly passengers in a subway raised controversy on the Internet. The woman was seen yelling and swearing at a man probably older than her father because he criticized her for not giving up the priority seat on the subway. The incident is an example of elderly abuse and completely different from the two former cases.
The younger woman deserves to be criticized for pointing her finger and yelling malignant words at someone old enough to be her parent. But the comments below the video clip told a different story. Many of them expressed sympathy for the younger woman and complained about senior citizens for their arrogance and rudeness. They pointed out that many elderly were healthy enough to stand and that younger people don’t have a chance to sit because there are too many senior passengers on the subway. They also added that there are too many rude and edgy seniors.
Their logic corresponds with the spike in the senior crime rate. Due to longevity and improved health standards, the elderly are more active and stronger than ever before. The senior population has also increased substantially. Naturally, crime figures for their demographic have gone up. According to data from the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, the proportion of crimes committed by people aged over 61 increased to 5 percent last year from 2.3 percent in 1999. Crime by the elderly has more than doubled over the last 11 years. During the same period, the population aged over 65 surged 51 percent.
The number of elderly prisoners is also rapidly rising, reaching 1,800 compared with 1,200 in 2007 and 600 in 1997. Crimes committed by the elderly are increasing at a far faster pace than the senior population itself. Serious offenses demanding prison detention are also on the rise. In short, the elderly are getting arrested and prosecuted for violence more than before. The trend has already been documented in Japan. When the senior population doubled in Japan from 1989 to 2005, the crime rate from the age group surged five fold. Financial hardship, isolation and loneliness are behind the geriatric crime.
Korean society is undergoing the fastest swirl of change in its history. A society requiring technological literacy due to the proliferation of smartphones and the Internet has accelerated isolation of the elderly. The elderly have few places to hang out and have a hard time even finding a place to shop within walking distance. Financial insecurity augments their sense of impotence and helplessness.
Retired males are suffering an existential crisis. They were treated as invisible at home and now are seen that way by society as well. They are quickly losing moral and spiritual connections. Rage takes the place of self-confidence that has been thrown to the ground. Tempers flare at the slightest provocation. The violent actions are a kind of twisted and extreme cry for attention, help and care from the elderly.
People can now live up to 100. The thought that it won’t be long before I join the senior’s club sends a chill down my spine. Money is one thing, but heartbreak is something I may not be able to handle. I take comfort at the sight of my role model - my father-in-law, who will soon turn 80.
He lost his wife 11 years ago and now does his own cooking and washing. He leads a regular life in good health. He does not smoke or drink and eats modestly. He started calligraphy 10 years ago and has gotten quite good with his brushes. His small apartment is full of his painting and calligraphy work.
He is popular among grandmothers because of his modesty. His simple and healthy age comes from his devotion to family. Instead of drinking and entertaining, he enjoyed sharing evenings with his family. Retirement came naturally to him. He had prepared well both financially and attitude-wise. Financial planning cannot be helped sometimes, but we can shape our attitude at will. We can choose to age with grace or sad and unfortunate rage.
*The writer is the deputy editor of economic affairs at the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Lee Na-ree