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지나쌤

Stalkers to be punished without victims' consent

By Son Ji-hyoung

Published : June 21, 2023 - 18:25

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Offenders accused of stalking or harassment will now face punishment, even without the need for victims' to consent to it, in a bill unanimously passed by the National Assembly on Wednesday.

The bill, approved by the parliament, eliminates any possibility for stalking and harassment offenders to negotiate an out-of-court settlement with the victim, a practice that has often left victims vulnerable to coercion or retaliation. All 246 lawmakers present in the plenary session voted for the bill.

The new rule will be in effect upon promulgation, and will apply retroactively no matter when the stalking offense occurred. It was President Yoon Suk Yul's election campaign pledge when he was running for president in 2022.

This bill came two years after the special law criminalizing stalking and harassment in Korea came into effect in October 2021. According to the special law, stalking offenders are punishable with up to three years of imprisonment or a fine of up to 30 million won ($23,210). Those who used dangerous objects while stalking can face up to a five-year jail term or up to a 50 million won fine.

The revision to punish a stalking offender regardless of the victim's consent was proposed by the Ministry of Justice last year. Due to the specific clause requiring the victim's consent for the offenders to receive criminal punishment, offenders "often threatened the victim and forced them to reach a settlement outside the courtroom to avoid conviction," according to the government.

This photo shows the National Assembly plenary session on Wednesday passing a bill to allow stalking offenders' punishment without victims' consent. The teal-colored full circle on the left side of the photo indicates a unanimous passage of the bill. (Yonhap) This photo shows the National Assembly plenary session on Wednesday passing a bill to allow stalking offenders' punishment without victims' consent. The teal-colored full circle on the left side of the photo indicates a unanimous passage of the bill. (Yonhap)

Under extreme circumstances, victims were subject to retaliatory crimes by the stalking offenders themselves.

The high-profile Sindang Station murder case in September 2022 is considered one such example, according to the Justice Ministry. The murderer, identified as Jeon Joo-hwan, 31, stabbed a former coworker to death at her workplace -- a Seoul Metro station -- to retaliate for the victim's refusal to drop accusations that he had stalked her. Jeon was given a 40-year jail sentence in February at a district court and later appealed the ruling.

Stalking victims' family members have also fallen prey to retaliatory crimes. Lee Seok-joon, then 25, murdered a stalking victim's mother and injured the victim's younger brother in 2021. The stalking victim was Lee's ex-girlfriend, who had been under police protection after reporting Lee to police.

Offender punishment without victim consent was part of the revision passed on Wednesday. Lawmakers also approved of the use of electronic monitoring devices for stalking offenders when a temporary restraining order is in place to prevent a stalking offender from approaching the victim. Restraining orders will now be effective for up to nine months, versus the six months currently. The rules pertaining to the use of monitoring devices will be effective three months after the revision's promulgation.

Also, police will not only protect the victims themselves but also their family members.

The revision additionally widened the definition of stalking and harassment, enabling online harassment offenders who expose a victim's personal information without the victim's consent with intent to intimidate them to be punished.