Public outrage in the wake of a high-profile case of child abuse has led members of the National Assembly to turn a spotlight on possible threats to children and end the lax judicial treatment of sex offenders. While this is to be applauded, the manner in which this has been carried out has at times been careless.
On Oct. 19, National Assembly Representative Woo Yoon-keun said that the number of sexual crimes by foreign nationals had tripled over the past eight years, rising from 83 in 2001 to 242 in 2008. While this information is troubling, it would seem less so if the Rep. Woo had bothered to put any of this information in context. Considering the foreign population at the end of 2008 was 1.15 million, those 242 crimes result in a sex crime rate of 20.8 per 100,000. When compared to statistics from the Supreme Prosecutors Office which show the sex crime rate of Korean citizens in Korea to be 108 per 100,000, we see that the foreign sex-crime rate is five times less.
But this is not an entirely accurate portrayal of these statistics. If it can be agreed that children and the elderly tend not to commit crimes, then it`s worth looking at the demographics of the Korean and foreign populations in Korea.
According to the CIA, children under 15 and elderly people over 64 make up 27.6 percent of the population of Korea. According to Korean Immigration Service figures, children under 16 and elderly over 60 make up 8.2 percent of the foreign population. If these low crime demographics are removed when making calculations, the foreign sex crime rate is 22.7 per 100,000 foreigners, and 151.7 per 100,000 Koreans - meaning in this case that the foreign sex-crime rate is 6.6 times lower.
While some news media reports in the past have been responsible in pointing out that the rising crime rate among foreigners in Korea is still much lower than that of Korean citizens, Rep. Woo has not put his worrying figures into context. Unfortunately, Rep. Woo is not the sole political voice guilty of this. On Oct. 22, it was reported that the Ministry of Justice had announced it would "revise immigration rules to ban foreigners found guilty of raping Korean children from re-entering Korea permanently," and that this was "the latest in a series of government measures to keep sexual predators away from society."
It`s unfortunate that this discussion of how to protect Korean society from sex crimes, when discussing foreigners, has focused only on past and possible sex crimes committed by foreigners against Koreans and omitted sex crimes that Koreans commit against foreigners.
A 2006 study, conducted on the behalf of the National Assembly Committee on Gender Equality, looked at the sexual activities of Korean men visiting Thailand and the Philippines and found that Korean men were known for habitually doing drugs and seeking out underage girls to have sex with.
The National Youth Commission found in 2005 that Korean fishermen were largely responsible for the existence of a teen prostitution industry in the South Pacific nation of Kiribati. A 2003 survey conducted by the National Human Rights Commission found that 12.5 percent of female foreigners working in Korea said they had been sexually harassed by Korean superiors or colleagues. One wonders why more consideration isn`t being given to such sex crimes against foreigners and the need to prevent and punish them.
While every effort should be taken to protect Korean children from sex crime and punish its perpetrators, it is troubling that the only available role for foreigners in the current debate is as potential criminals. Reading such alarming statements about foreigners being made in the National Assembly, one wonders of Korea`s elected representatives truly want, as Justice Minister Lee Kwi-nam recently put it, "to realize a genuinely mature cosmopolitan nation," or if they see foreigners as a threat in much the same manner as the country north of the 38th parallel.
The opinions express here are the author`s only and do not necessarily represent those of The Korea Herald. For more of Matt VanVolkenburg`s writings, go to http://populargusts.blogspot.com - Ed.
By Matt VanVolkenburg