Man, 43, found not guilty in teenage rape caseA Seoul court said Tuesday that it had found a 43-year-old man not guilty of raping a high school student, in a case that has since reignited arguments over whether the age of consent in Korea should be raised.
The man, surnamed Kim, the director of a private nursing academy in Seoul, was tried on charges that he raped one of his students, surnamed Han, on three separate occasions in April 2014, when she was 17.
Before their first encounter, the girl had reportedly been left alone with Kim after he ordered her to clean the classroom. According to the court, Kim told the student he could offer her a job and pocket money if she agreed to be his girlfriend. He subsequently stripped naked, saying he wanted to commemorate their first date.
The two had sex, and a day later, Kim brought Han to the parking lot where his car was parked, where they engaged in another encounter.
Kim was indicted last year after the girl told a social worker about their relationship, but was acquitted by the Seoul Eastern District Court due to a lack of evidence. The court explained that Han had changed her testimony several times and had referred to Kim her “lover” after they had engaged in sexual relations.
Prosecutors appealed the decision.
The age of consent in Korea is 13, meaning that a person who engages in a sexual act with a child below that age will be charged with statutory rape, regardless of whether the minor is said to have given consent. Criminal charges will not be applied in cases in which it can be proven that a minor 14 or older gave consent in advance.
The age of consent in Korea came under renewed debate in November 2014, when the Supreme Court handed down a not guilty verdict to middle-aged man who had been charged with raping the plaintiff over three years, when she was 15 to 18 years old.
The defense team presented the girl’s love letters and messages written to the defendant in court, which it argued proved the relationship had been consensual. The case was sent back to the high court, which handed down a not guilty verdict in October.
Critics of the ruling, however, have argued for a more thorough dialogue on raising the age of consent, pointing out that most lower courts have tended to follow suit in acquitting defendants in statutory rape trials since the Supreme Court case.
“The court has to actively interpret the law in order to cut down on the number of sexual crimes against minors,” said Cha Mi-kyung, an executive at the Korean Women Lawyers Association, adding that some minors are coerced and may not be able to explain exactly what happened.
BY PARK MIN-JE [firstname.lastname@example.org]