The Korea Herald


Top court defines repeated missed calls as harassment

By Son Ji-hyoung

Published : May 30, 2023 - 17:53

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South Korea's Supreme Court on Tuesday expanded the definition of harassment to include repeated missed calls by an offender meant to intimidate a victim in a landmark ruling.

On May 18, the nation's top court remanded the case to the Busan District Court, dismissing the lower court's ruling that refused to recognize the behavior of leaving numerous missed calls as harassment. It was the first Supreme Court ruling to define the nature of such behavior.

A rights advocacy group known as the Korean Women Lawyers Association welcomed the ruling, seeing it as "fulfilling the purpose of an anti-stalking law" that first came into existence in 2021 to protect victims of stalking.

"We welcome the Supreme Court ruling that allowed the swift and strong protection of stalking crime victims," the Korean Women Lawyers Association said in a statement. "An act of stalking destroys a victim's daily life and often leads to felonies that cause tremendous damages (to the victim), so (society) is in desperate need of strong law enforcement (against stalking) in a preemptive manner."

The ruling came two years after a man, whose identity remains undisclosed, talked over the phone for seven seconds with an unnamed woman in October 2021, and then left 28 missed calls on her phone throughout November 2021. The two had previously been in a romantic relationship.

The woman had already blocked the man's number, but he was able to continuously call from a different number or by hiding his number.

These were part of what the woman had to go through after a breakup, along with text messages containing death threats and a photo of where the woman's mother lived.

The lower courts in Busan handed the man a sentence of four months imprisonment.

But the rulings by a district court and an appellate court differed as to whether the unwanted phone calls should be seen as an act of harassment if left unanswered.

The appeals court ruling showed that either the sounds of the phone ringing or records of multiple missed calls cannot be deemed a harassment because neither of them delivered any message that is supposed to be carried in the form of either texts, signs or marks.

The top court judges, however, saw the lower court's ruling as a "misunderstanding" of the anti-stalking act in Korea, which is meant to view "an act of consistent and repeated action without just cause against the victim's will."

In Korea, decisions rendered by the Supreme Court are considered binding in all courts across the nation.