[Editorial] Fighting sex crimes

2012-09-03 19:27

A gruesome sex crime has been committed against a child girl in Naju County, South Jeolla Province. The 7-year-old girl was kidnapped in the middle of the night while sleeping at her own home with her family. She was brutally raped and strangled to the point of unconsciousness, but luckily survived.

Police has arrested a suspect, a 23-year-old man who lives in the victim’s neighborhood. A day laborer with no fixed abode, the suspect confessed he committed the crime under the influence of alcohol. He was an acquaintance of the victim’s mother.

The case was all the more shocking as the victim was taken away, covered in her blanket, while sleeping at home. The suspect intruded into the victim’s house in the early morning hours and carried her away. He could do this because he knew the victim’s family well.

The Naju child rape revived people’s memory of the “Cho Doo-soon case” in 2008. Cho stunned the nation by brutally raping an 8-year-old girl in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province. The girl suffered severe injuries to her genitals and intestines, as did the Naju victim.

The heinous case followed a recent series of appalling sex crimes. Last month, an ex-convict wearing an electronic anklet killed a woman in Seoul after failing to rape her in her own house. In July, a primary school girl was raped and killed in Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province.

As the spate of horrific sex crimes continues, anxiety among the public is growing. Many are feeling that there is no safe place from sex crimes. They are calling on the government to beef up public security and prevent sex crimes, especially those against children.

Police statistics show a steady increase in sex crimes in recent years, suggesting the need for the government to rethink its approach to combating them. Sex crimes, such as rapes and sexual assaults, increased from 13,396 cases in 2007, to 15,017 in 2008, 18,256 in 2010, and further to 19,498 in 2011.

Last year, sex crimes increased 6.7 percent, a faster rate than those of other major crimes, such as murder, robbery, violence and theft.

Notably, sex crimes against children and teenagers grew at a faster pace. The police data report 857 cases in 2007, 1,359 in 2009 and 2,054 last year.

The continued rise in sex crimes against children has led lawmakers to rewrite laws to make it easier to prosecute offenders. Now, sex offenders against children can be indicted without the victims’ accusations. Last month, the statute of limitations on sex crimes against girls under 13 and handicapped women were abolished.

While it has become easier to indict sex offenders, the penalties against them still remain too light compared with other countries. For instance, Cho Doo-soon was given just 12 years in prison. A similar crime would have drawn a much longer prison term in the United States.

The penalty standardization committee under the Supreme Court needs to toughen punishment against child sex offenders.

A more serious problem is the court’s tendency to grant leniency to offenders of sex crimes against children under 13. In 2010, the court gave suspended sentences to 41 percent of the defendants. Last year, the rate increased to 48 percent.

The court tends to grant suspended sentences to offenders if they reach an agreement with the victims on compensation. Judges should rethink this outdated practice as it runs counter to the public sense of justice.

A more important reason to stop granting leniency to sex offenders may be their high likelihood to reoffend. Most child sex offenders are psychopaths whose second conviction rate is said to be higher than 80 percent.

The suspect of the Naju child rape also displayed symptoms of being a psychopath, such as lack of a conscience or sense of guilt, lack of empathy for the victim’s pain, parasitic lifestyle and irresponsibility.

The recent string of sexual crimes against children suggests it’s time for the government to come up with a fundamental solution. The measures should include a crackdown on child pornography. The suspects of child rapes in Naju and Tongyeong were both child pornography addicts.

In the United States, a person faces a minimum of five years in prison for downloading child porn from the Internet. In Korea, it is illegal to possess child porn but few have been punished for it.
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