Harsh punishments deter crimeUntil now, courts have handed down light punishments to sex criminals that are too weak to satisfy the public. It is necessary that maximum sentences be increased. Some believe the punishments could be too heavy, but that argument is too hasty.
By backing down, we might give the wrong message that a sex crime is not serious. Our society still has a lenient attitude toward sex crimes, but in fact, they are just as terrible as murder and can destroy a victim’s life.
We must tell society that rape and other sexual crimes are serious and cannot be ignored. To this end, I think it is urgent to strengthen punishments to restrain potential criminals.
A major point of contention is determination of punishments for repeat offenders. Under Article 38 of the Criminal Act, sentences for repeat crimes can be up to 50 percent longer than the maximums specified in the law except for capital punishment or life imprisonment.
But the problem is that there is no provision for those who repeat sex crimes on multiple occasions. Each time, the maximum can only be 50 percent more than the punishment imposed for a single crime. As such, crimes that destroy the basic order of society receive relatively lenient punishments or may go altogether unpunished.
In the United States, the legal system uses consecutive sentences to sternly punish crimes that only receive weak penalties under the law. To prevent further crimes and protect society, each charge is seen as an individual act with an individual punishment.
For example, in California a judge must order a person convicted of sex crimes with multiple victims to serve the maximum sentences consecutively. The judge’s opinion does not matter as the law is very clear. Such punishment is absolutely compulsory.
Recently, the president of a television broadcasting company in Georgia was ordered to serve 1,000 years in prison for possessing child pornography after 25,000 photos and 700 videos were found on his computer. He was also indicted on charges of sex crimes against children.
Under Georgia’s criminal code, possessing material that depicts a sexual act of a minor under 18 years of age must lead to more than five years and less than 20 years in prison.
After the jury found him guilty of all charges, the presiding judge ordered the defendant to serve 1,000 years by deciding to impose a 20-year jail term for each of 50 charges.
What would have happened if a similar case took place in Korea? Under the law governing the protection of children from sex crimes, possessing child pornography is punished with a fine of less than 20 million won ($17,650).
In order to strongly deter sex crimes, we must think about introducing consecutive sentencing. Our current system of additional punishment has its limits.
For once, we could lift the ceiling on punishments for sex crimes and keep courts from exercising inappropriate leniency.
Maximum sentences for crimes like distribution of child pornography should also be lengthened so that the country can escape from the embarrassing title of “sex crime heaven.”
Whenever a shocking child rape is reported in the news, society makes a fuss. But the reactions are too little, too late. We must act now so that sex crimes can be preempted.
The legal community needs to see sex crimes from the perspective of the public and especially the victims. There issues are far too important to ignore.
* The author is a lawyer in the United States and a adjunct professor at the Kyunghee University Graduate School of Pan-Pacific International Studies.
By An Junseong