After the rape on the Olle TrailA 7-year-old girl had crept some 20 meters (65 feet) out of the bushes under the Yeoungsan Bridge, where the crime had taken place, and was discovered on the riverside road.
Early in the morning, Typhoon Tembin swept over the Naju area. She was found naked, soaking wet and shivering, wrapped up in a blanket. She did not let go of the wet blanket. She told the police that she had fainted after being raped and assaulted, but didn’t want to lose the blanket. The young girl was thoroughly injured and could not eat for three days, barely sipping water. Yet she was desperately holding onto the blanket as if it was the most precious thing.
We get upset about heinous crimes so quickly, but our interests just as quickly subside. I am sorry to say that the Naju rape case may be forgotten in the same pattern, and the tragedy is considered the fate of the victim. “How can we live here any longer?” cried the father of the victim. The victim’s family wants to relocate, and the case may be buried in memories.
The Olle Trail murder case in Jeju was not much different. The case was closed when the murderer was caught after 11 days, and the victim was buried under a tree in the outskirts of Seoul. Popular attention died down, and a blog kept by the victim’s family is the only place that still contains traces of mourning. Her father wrote, “It feels like everything is my fault. If I die and reunite with you, I will be the most caring and loving father for you.”
Whenever a heinous crime happens, society often focuses solely on the offender and the victim. After the murder, the Olle Trail was fully restored. The island of Jeju enjoyed brisk business in the high summer season in August, attracting more foreign tourists. The authorities were more concerned about potential flight disruptions because of the typhoons.
The Jeju call center still receives just as many tourism inquiries, and it is hard to find lodging and dining reservations. The Olle office said that the scenic trail is still visited by many hikers.
But the indirect damage may not be so visible. For example, Siheung, a village with a population of 1,200, has been hit severely as the first Olle trail where the murder had taken place was closed. The guesthouses and restaurants near the malmi-oreum (volcanic zone in Jeju dialect) are suffering the most.
The villagers say they cannot complain openly as the offender is from their neighborhood. Along with the scenic seventh trail, the first course had been the symbol of Olle. The locals took pride in the trail as it was the first to open, and the popular television program “1 Night, 2 Days” shot an episode here, promoting it nationwide.
Hikers would set out in the morning from Siheung Elementary School, and they would reach “The House of Female Divers” by lunch time. Jointly operated by the fishing population of the village, the restaurant’s “clam soup” was extremely popular and was often sold out.
But the restaurant is no longer receiving any patrons. The recently renovated seven guesthouses in the village have not had guests for a long time. Former village chief Kang Byeong-hee said, “The village used to make 700,000 to 800,000 won [$618 to $707] by catering to the Olle hikers, but we can no longer expect the tourism income.”
You will no longer see female hikers enjoying solitude. They are taking extra precautions, forming a group and setting out around 9 a.m. together. Surveillance cameras have been installed, and the local voluntary security forces are patrolling the paths. Still, after trust in security is breached once, it is difficult to assure people again.
The aftermath of bizarre and heinous crimes is not so simple. The court needs to have a broader perspective and take into account the scope of an event’s consequences when making a ruling. The president and the ruling party’s presidential candidate declared 100 days of special security period, but it is still doubtful if we feel any safer.
When we are unsure who will become the next victim when, how can we focus on elevating our national dignity or seek to create a country where people can reach their dreams? Experts will often cite social problems as the cause of crimes. But when Korean society was struggling in poverty and experiencing extreme polarization, humanity was still alive in Korea. We all know the importance of human rights.
But if necessary, we need to consider random searches and inspections as well as permanent isolation of anti-social and heinous criminals. Korea still hands down death sentences, but no execution has been carried out for 15 years, making Korea an effective abolitionist of capital punishment. However, I am not so proud of that title any more.
* The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Chul-ho