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Koreans still struggling to stamp out domestic violence

A 35-year-old school teacher recently asked for help from an emergency counseling center, saying her husband, a doctor, had kicked her in the chest even though she was holding their baby.

“It was the first time that my husband has abused me. But I feared that it could be repeated because his father also mistreated family members,” she was quoted as saying by the center.

This is a very typical case of domestic abuse here, experts say.

According to a national survey conducted in 2007, one out of every two households (50.4 percent) suffered domestic violence, which includes physical, mental and financial abuse on spouse, child and elderly members.

“Compared with the U.S. and Europe, the Korean figure is slightly higher. Abusers still don’t regard domestic violence as a crime and many of them are not punished properly,” said Kim Kwon-young, director of women’s welfare support division at the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.

Under the current law, those who injure family members are to face up to 10 years in jail. Because the victims hesitate to punish their family members, however, less than 10 percent of abusers are punished here, Kim said.

Experts emphasize the importance of early response.

In the 2007 survey, those who experienced domestic abuse in their childhood were two-times more likely to abuse their spouses.

Like the case above, experts recommend that the first sign of abuse be dealt with promptly and efforts be made for prevention.

The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Affairs has decided to take a comprehensive measure for prevention of domestic violence by forming a task force in cooperation with other government offices such as the Justice Ministry.

Even though separate efforts have been made, it is the first time such a pan-government taskforce has been established here, the ministry said.

In order to prevent repeat abuse, the authority of police officers would be strengthened for first time cases. If related regulations are toughened, police officers can isolate abusers or order them not to approach the victims. If the victims agree, the abusers also can be ordered to leave the family or to give up parental rights.

The special team, consisting of government officials, academics and activists, will work as an advisory panel until November when the comprehensive plan is completed.

By Lee Ji-yoon  (