Getting real on sex crimesSex crimes will finally be deprived of their unique status as offenses that need complaints from victims from tomorrow. Now, the police can launch an investigation into a crime at their discretion without formal accusations from traumatized victims. The perpetrators can be punished even if they try to reach an agreement with their victims - or to threaten or harass them - not to go to the police. Since the government announced its plan to revise the current criminal law to allow stricter penalties on sex crimes last November, many raised opposition to the amendments out of concerns for the possibility of abuse of the amendments or unwanted side effects. But they should not distort - or dishonor - the authorities’ determination to reinforce punishments for sex crimes amid ever-increasing sex offenses.
The revisions inarguably reflect our current zeitgeist. In the past, Korean society recognized sex crimes as an offense to each individual’s right to self-determination on sex. The society has also endeavored to keep up the exclusive status of sex crimes under the pretext of protecting victims’ privacy. Such a lenient reaction, however, only led to more malicious attacks on women’s sense of chastity and a greater number of agreements coerced by culprits. Investigators, too, had a tendency to look into sex crimes in a half-hearted manner because victims were likely to drop their charges.
Sex crimes are often an offshoot of power abuse as most of them take place in circumstances in which subordinates can hardly resist - or raise an objection to - their superiors’ sexual demands. But the rising status of women has also turned things upside down. At Korea National University of Art, a female professor was fired after she repeatedly engaged in sexual abuse of her male students. As a result, the revised law changed the description of rape victims from “women” to “people.” All Koreans are legally protected from rape now, even men.
The revisions are only a step forward, although a significant one. A bigger problem is our society’s misperceptions about sex crimes. According to a survey of policemen in small and mid-sized cities in South Gyeongsang, a whopping 53.8 percent said that sexual violence occurs due to women’s sexy dressing. Thirty-seven percent said it’s a woman’s fault when she is sexually attacked while drunk.
That clearly illustrates our society’s generosity toward men’s sexual impulses. Unless such a culture is corrected, the government’s punishing of sex criminals will put a lot of Korean men behind bars. Reducing and preventing sex crimes must begin with a revolutionary shift in our society’s attitudes.