Laws must keep up

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Laws must keep up

Former Chungcheong Governor and one-time president-hopeful An Hee-jung was placed behind bars after an appeals court sentenced him to three and a half years in prison for raping and sexually assaulting his secretary. On Friday, the Seoul High Court reversed a lower court’s verdict and found the accounts of his former secretary, Kim Ji-eun, convincing.

The bench found An guilty of nine out of 10 counts. An walked free follwing his first trial last August, after the lower court questioned why Kim could not stop the advances from her boss. The first and second courts differed in interpreting both the testimony and the laws. The final decision on An’s fate now rests with the Supreme Court.

Women’s groups welcomed the ruling, while some questioned the court’s decision. Opinions were mixed, as in the case of South Gyeongsang Gov. Kim Kyoung-soo, a confidante of President Moon Jae-in and also an aspiring presidential candidate, who was recently found guilty of online opining rigging. Court judgments should be respected regardless of individual opinions.

The contrary verdicts in the lower court and appeals court in An’s case, however, underscore a wide gap in perspectives about sex crimes. The Me Too movement went viral after a female prosecutor in January exposed gender discrimination and sexual crimes prevalent in the law enforcement community.

Women’s rights groups and the judiciary community are demanding an overhaul in outdated laws. Article 297 of the criminal law stipulates more than three years in prison for rapes accompanied by threat and assault. Many are calling for tougher regulations to punish sexual offenders. They are also demanding a correction in a Supreme Court ruling that accepted a sexual assault as a sexual crime only when it is clear the victim cannot resist the assailant. Others call for clearer definitions on sexual crimes by people with power or authority, as in An’s case. Many lawmakers came up with revisions to the criminal law, but the legislature has not even reviewed them.

The government and legislature must gauge public opinion and begin revising the laws when they do not reflect our current social reality, as otherwise both offenders and defenders cannot trust law enforcement or courts and their rulings. Ultimately, society would have to pay a price. The Me Too Movement has raised an uproar over an important issue, but little has changed. Society cannot advance if it does not make the necessary changes.

JoongAng Sunday, Feb. 2-3, Page 30
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