Concern rises over lax gov’t oversight

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Concern rises over lax gov’t oversight

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White chrysanthemums are laid on the desk of Han Ah-reum at Sanyang Elementary School yesterday in Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang. The 9-year-old girl was murdered by a man with 12 prior convictions. By Song Bong-geun

Following the brutal murder of a 9-year-old girl by a man with 12 prior convictions, including sexual assault of an elderly woman in 2005, concerns are growing over a lack of government oversight of convicted sex offenders.

According to police, Kim Jeom-deok, the prime suspect accused of kidnapping and murdering Han Ah-reum in her neighborhood in Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang, has prior convictions ranging from sex crimes to assault.

Despite his lengthy rap sheet, Kim was not a registered sex offender, meaning his past offenses were not made available to the public.

Kim was released from prison in May 2009 after serving four years for assaulting a 62-year-old woman with a rock after a failed attempt to rape her. Because the incident was seven years ago, Kim’s information was not in the sex offender database.

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The government began allowing the public access to database of convicted sex offenders since April of last year, but the measure was not retrospective. Information on child sex offenders has been available since Jan. 1, 2010, but Kim’s crime was not included. He was also not required to wear an electronic anklet and was free from law enforcement authorities’ real-time monitoring. The local police checked on the suspect once every three months, and their last checkup took place on July 14, a source told the JoongAng Ilbo.

Two days later, Han, who was living only 250 meters (820 feet) away from the suspect’s house, went missing on her way to school, and the police found her body on Sunday after Kim’s confession.

After media reported on Kim’s criminal background, hits on the Internet database of registered sex offenders saw a sudden surge. According to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, 237,000 people accessed the database on Sunday night alone.

The site, www.sexoffender.go.kr, has two databases. The child sex offender database is managed by the Gender Equality Ministry while the Ministry of Justice is in charge of the database of sex offenders whose victims were adults.

“When the victim turns 19 on the year of the crime, it is categorized as sexual offense against an adult,” a Justice Ministry official said. “Starting from this point, we are in charge of it.”

As the two ministries do not share databases, loopholes emerged. The two ministries also use different standards to make the information of the offenders public.

The database operated by the Gender Equality Ministry provides information of the sex offenders whose victims were children and teenagers. To make it to the database, the crimes must have taken place after Jan. 1, 2010, based on the law on the protection of children and juveniles from sexual abuse.

The database offered by the Justice Ministry provides information on sex offenders whose victims are 19 or older. Under the law governing sex crimes, the ministry makes public the information of the offenders whose convictions were finalized after April 16 of last year, regardless of the actual time of the crimes.

The Justice Ministry is also in charge of punishments such as electronic anklets and chemical castration, regardless of the victims’ ages.

“Because two ministries are handling the issue, it is ineffective,” a Gender Equality Ministry official said.

A Justice Ministry official also admitted that the current administration of the databases is ineffective, and it is reviewing measures to improve the situation.

The system built by the two ministries failed to function properly as Kim’s information was not included. The police said yesterday that it will take additional measures to make up for the legal loopholes.

“The suspect in the Tongyeong case was a sex offender, but his identity was not registered in the database,” Kim Ki-yong, commissioner general of the National Police Agency, said yesterday. “If there is more for the police to do, we will take action.”

The National Police Agency said yesterday afternoon that it will have a special survey on 20,000 high-profile sex offenders around the country to ease public unrest.

Until the end of next month, the police will check on repeat sex offenders who committed more than three crimes over the past three months.

The police will also check the whereabouts of sex offenders who served more than five years in prison in the past 15 years or more than three years in prison in the past 10 years.

“Our routine checkup took place once every month to every three months,” a police official said. “This time, we want to do a special roundup.”

Representative Seo Young-kyo of the Democratic United Party also promised efforts to resolve the systemic shortcomings. “We continuously see child sex crimes,” Seo said. “I will push forward revisions of concerned laws to allow easier access to the information of sex offenders.”

According to Seo, an average of 2.17 child sex crimes was reported everyday to the law enforcement authorities over the past six years. Citing the Justice Ministry data, Seo said 4,367 sex crimes against children under the age of 13 were reported from 2007 until June this year.

Tongyeong Police said yesterday that it would seek a warrant to detain the suspect for further investigation. A computer confiscated from his house contained 218 pornographic items including some pedophilic video files.


By Ser Myo-ja, Park Yu-mi [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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