Help for violent crime victims is complicated

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Help for violent crime victims is complicated

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Mrs. Kim looks out a window of her home in Suwon last July, missing her son who was murdered in front of a convenience store. By Cho Yong-chul

Mrs. Kim, 71, has recently been suffering from insomnia at her home in Seodun-dong, Suwon in Gyeonggi. Her placid life was turned upside down in July 2012, when her son was murdered by a 17-year old in front of a convenience store.

Her 39-year-old son told the teen not to spit on the pavement. For his scolding, he was fatally stabbed. The Suwon District Court sentenced the teen to up to four years in jail. “We took into consideration that the adolescent, aged 17, has no past criminal record and is currently reflecting on his wrongdoings,” the court said.

Kim feels justice hasn’t been done. “I have lost my only son,” she says. “A maximum of four years in jail certainly cannot be justice.” She also lost the breadwinner of her household. The son lived at his mother’s residence with his wife and 6-year-old son.

At one point she couldn’t pay the utility bills and lost the electricity in her residence. Kim’s best hope was the financial support Korea offers for the families of victims of violent criminal cases, which is managed by the Korea Crime Victims Support Center, or KCVC, under the Ministry of Justice.

But Kim gave up on that after concluding the process was too byzantine and after hearing that the compensation is stingy.

According to the KCVC, a victim of a violent crime or his family are not entitled to receive financial support from the association in the following situations:

-If the offender was related to the family

-If the victim assisted or provoked the offender to commit the crime

-If the victim inflicted bodily harm on the offender in revenge.

In addition, victims given any form of blood money or settlements by the offender must return any money given by the KCVC.

Kim had actually worked out a settlement with the 17-year-old offender’s family, but the negotiations ultimately broke down.

Korea may be unusual in trying to use state money to compensate victims of violent crimes. But it’s a highly complicated goal. There are an abundant number of crime victims who cannot continue with their previous lifestyles. And that number continues to rise.

According to the Ministry of Justice, the number of the top four violent crimes - murder, theft, sexual assault and assault and battery - rose from 112,000 in 2007 to 129,000 in 2011.

But the standard for government financial assistance appears to have failed many victim families.

“Measures for immediate support should be given from the initial stages,” said Lee Sang-uk, head of the Korea Organization for Victim Assistance.

According to the KCVC Funding Law enacted in 2011, 5 percent of fines collected from convicted criminals are supposed to be used to support victims of the violent crimes and their families. This is equivalent to 60 to 70 billion won ($55.3 million to $64.6 million) per year.

But 70 percent of the amount is spent on support for victims of sex crimes, leaving victims of other crimes high and dry.

“While social interest has been high for victims of sex crimes, support for victims of ordinary crimes has been somewhat neglected,” said Dr. Kang Seok-gu from the Korean Institute of Criminology.

Legal experts maintain that the amount earmarked for the victims is simply inadequate.

“The KCVC has made efforts to open 58 support centers across the country,” said Park Kwang-min, a professor at Sungkyunkwan University Law School. “But since budgets remain the same, specific measurements for support are still insufficient.”

Lee Yu-seon, a prosecutor for the Ministry of Justice, said too little attention is being paid to victims in need of support. “We are trying our best to expand budgets for them,” he said.

BY NO JIN-HO, LEE DONG-EUN [enational@joongang.co.kr]

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