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'성범죄 당하고도 범죄자 취급' 최말자씨, "이젠 성폭행 피해 여성들 돕고 싶어'By Yoon Min-sik
Published : June 21, 2023 - 16:10
최말자(77)씨는 정당 방위에 관한 논란이 있을 때마다 언급되는 '강제 키스 혀 절단 사건'의 당사자다.
이는 1964년 5월, 경남 김해의 한 작은 마을에서 당시 18세이던 최씨가 강제로 키스하려는 노모씨 (당시 21세)의 혀를 절단한 사건이다. 법원은 최씨의 정당 방위를 인정하지 않고 중상해죄로 징역 10개월, 집행 유예 2년을 선고했다. 노씨는 사건 이후 최씨의 집에 침입해 협박을 한 죄로 징역 6개월, 집행 유예 2년형이 선고되었다. 그에게 성폭력 관련 혐의는 적용되지 않았다.
억울하게 가해자가 된 지 56만인 2020년, 최씨는 법원에 재심을 청구했다.
하지만 1심과 2심은, "시대가 바뀌고 사회 문화적 환경이 달라졌다고 하여 반 세기 전의 사건을 뒤집을 수 없다"며 그의 재심 청구를 기각했다.
이달 초 부산 여성의전화 사무실에서 만난 최 씨는 "대법원이 양심적이라면 법대로 이 사건에 대한 재심을 열어서 바로 잡고, 정당 방위가 인정되도록 할 것이라고 기대하고, 믿고 있다"고 말했다.
56년 전을 회고하면서, 그는 모든 게 "충격"이었다고 말했다. 성범죄 자체보다 수사와 재판 과정에서 "법원과 검찰도 (노씨의) 공범"이구나 싶었다는 것이다.
처음 경찰이 사건을 수사 한 후 검찰에 송치할 때는 분명 강간 미수에 대한 정당 방위 사건이었다. 그런데, 검찰 조사 과정에서 노씨의 성폭행 미수 혐의는 사라졌고, 최씨는 피해자가 아닌 중상해 사건의 가해자로 구속되어 구치소에 수감되었다.
정당 방위에 대한 형법 21조는 "현재의 부당한 침해로부터 자기 또는 타인의 법익을 방위하기 위하여 한 행위는 상당한 이유가 있는 경우에는 벌하지 아니한다"고 명시한다. 또한 21조 3항에는 "야간이나 그 밖의 불안한 상태에서 공포를 느끼거나 경악하거나 흥분하거나 당황하였기 때문에 그 행위를 하였을 때에는 벌하지 아니한다"고 언급하고 있다.
해당 사건은 작은 시골 마을의 밤 8시에 일어났다는 것이 당시 신문 기사에 명시되어 있다. 위 언급된 "상당한 이유"의 모호성을 감안하더라도 정당방위 여건이 성립한다는 것이 법조계의 전반적인 의견이다.
실제로 2021년 부산지방법원은 재심 청구를 기각하면서도, "사회 전반적으로 뿌리 깊었고 제도로서도 존재하던 성차별적 인식과 가치관이 지금 만큼이라도 옅어져 있었다면, 청구인을 감옥에 보내지도 가해자로 낙인 찍지도 않았을 것"이라고 밝히며 판결이 잘못되었다는 것을 시사했다. 그러나 당시 검찰은 정당 방위를 끝내 인정하지 않았다.
최씨는 당시 검사가 "이X 저X 욕을 하면서 바른 말하라고 윽박" 지르면서 "바른 말하지 않으면 평생 감옥 살이 할 것"이라며 위협했다고 말했다.
교육을 제대로 받지 못한 최씨와 가족은 법에 대해 몰랐고, 아버지는 결국 노씨의 가족과 합의할 수 밖에 없었다. 노씨 측은 처음엔 당시 돈 20만원을 요구했으나, 최종적으로 4만6천원에 합의했다. 이는 당시 공무원의 몇 달치 월급에 해당하는 큰 돈이었다.
최씨는 법원이 집행 유예 선고하면서 구치소에서 풀려났다. 이 때는 이미 6개월의 수감 생활을 한 후였다.
극심한 2차 가해
최씨와 여성의 전화 측이 제공한 당시 신문기사와 법원 판결문을 보면 성폭력 피해자에 대한 극심한 2차 가해가 있었음을 확인할 수 있다.
부산 지역 한 신문 11월 14일자 기사에 따르면 부산지법형사합의부는 사건의 진상을 파악하기 위해 한 대학병원 정신과에 혀를 짜를 때 최씨의 심리 상태에 대해 문의했다고 한다.
해당 정신과 의사는 이에 대해 "미움과 사랑의 갈등에서 온 히스테리 반응"이라고 규정하면서 "미움과 사랑의 갈등을 적절히 조절하는 힘이 최양에겐 결여되지 않았나고"보고 있다고 전했다. 성범죄의 원인을 피해자에게서 찾는 것은 오늘날 2차 가해의 일종으로 여겨진다.
또한 12월 18일자 기사에 따르면 재판부가 최씨의 순결성의 감정을 의뢰하는 한편 "처녀가 처음으로 남자와 키스할 때의 심리"에 대해 전문의 자문을 통해 순결성을 확인했다고 한다.
최씨와 당시 여러 기사를 통해 검찰과 법원이 그와 노씨의 결혼을 중재했다는 점도 확인할 수 있었다. 모 일보의 10월 22일자 기사에 따르면 최씨 측 변호사조차도 "노군이나 최양이 이미 딴 처녀 총각과 혼인하긴 우리 사회 풍습으로 보아 어려운 일이니 본 변호인이 팔 걷고 나서 양측 부모들로 하여금 한 번 더 마음을 돌리게 해서 노군과 최양의 혼인 중매에 나서겠다"고 열변을 토했고, 방청객들의 격찬을 받았다고 한다.
56년 만의 미투
억울한 마음을 반 세기 넘게 담고 있던 최씨가 사건과 다시 마주하게 된 것은 2013년 뒤늦게 입학한 한국방송통신대학교에서 ‘성, 사랑, 사회’ 수업을 수강하게 되면서였다.
"그 때 확실히 알았다. 내가 피해자라는 것, (당시 사건은) 성폭력, (그 중에서도) 강간 미수 사건이었다는 것. 그리고 인권과 (남녀) 평등이 중요하다는 것과 피해자가 보호받을 수 있다는 것"이라며 "세상에 확실히 밝혀야겠다는 것을 결심했다"고 전했다.
2017년부터 전 세계를 휩쓴 미투 운동도 하나의 계기였다. 최씨는 "피해자 보호가 너무 안되어서 (피해를 당해도) 나서지 못하고 억울하게 있는 사람이 많다"면서 사회를 바꾸기 위해 나서게 되었다고 밝혔다.
수 십년간 가해자라는 멍에를 안고 살았던 최씨는 성폭행 피해자들을 돕고 싶다는 마음을 밝혔다. 그는 지금껏 투쟁을 도와준 한국여성의전화 활동가들에게 고마움을 표하면서 "억울함을 끌어안고 평생을 살 순 없지 않느냐"면서 피해자들에게 주변의 도움을 적극적으로 구할 것을 조언했다.
그는 "피해자들이 억울하고 할 말이 많지만, 나가서 (증언) 한다고 해도 보호를 안 해주니까 말을 못하고 나서지 못하는 것이라고 생각한다"면서 "옳고 그른 것을 판단하고 죄가 있으면 벌를 주어야 하는 것"이라고 강조했다.
[Herald Interview] 56 years overdue: Victim of 1964 sexual assault seeks justice
Choi fights for a retrial, vindication after being jailed for biting off the tongue of the man who tried to rape her
Ever since one fateful night in the spring of 1964, Choi Mal-ja has endured the weight of her notorious reputation as a “tongue biter" who supposedly ruined a young man’s life over a kiss.
At age 18, Choi bit off part of the man’s tongue as she tried to fight off an attempted rape. From today’s perspective, the nature of her actions is of little debate: It was self-defense.
But the world was a different place back then.
“The court made me -- the victim -- the attacker. I knew nothing about the law, but I knew that I had been wronged,” Choi, now 77, told The Korea Herald on June 5 in Busan, where she lives.
Eight months after the incident, she was sentenced to 10 months in prison, suspended for two years, while her attacker received six months in prison, suspended for one year. His sentence was not for the sexual assault, but for breaking into her home and threatening her after the incident. He was not even indicted for what he did to her on that night.
In May 2020, Choi filed for a retrial, seeking justice, which had failed her 56 years ago. Two lower courts have dismissed her case.
Now, she awaits the decision of the Supreme Court.
It is still painful to recall May 6, 1964, and the ensuing ordeal of investigations, six months of detention, relentless media scrutiny and the stigma attached to her name, Choi said.
Amid the whirlwind of events, it was the man's severed tongue that garnered all the attention and significance, not his sexual assault of her. In the aftermath, she was labeled the attacker, not the victim.
On Aug. 31 of that year, she was arrested and taken to a detention center, where she would spend the next six months of her life sleeping next to the toilet while being investigated by the prosecution.
The prosecutor who handled her case had cursed at her and berated her to “tell the truth,” she said, while disregarding the assault.
“I said I did nothing wrong, and (the prosecutor) said if I didn’t comply, I would have to spend the rest of my life in jail.
“(The prosecutor), calling me names, told me ‘Why won’t you take responsibility after crippling a man? Why won’t you marry him? Why won’t you compensate him?’”
“I maintained that if I had done something wrong, I would rather spend the time (in prison). I wasn’t going to pay him a dime.”
She found out only much later that her father had sold a portion of the family’s property to settle with the man in order to receive leniency from the court.
Choi's family endured persistent harassment from the man, surnamed Noh, who continually demanded compensation for his injury. He, accompanied by a few of his friends, even broke into their home and threatened Choi and her older sister with a knife, for which he received the suspended jail term.
“He was accusing me of not taking responsibility for making him disabled, brandishing a knife. My father wasn’t home, so we crouched next to the door (inside a room), terrified and holding onto the doorknob.”
Noh’s family initially requested 200,000 won, at a time when the lowest-ranking government official was taking home a little over 10,000 won per month. They eventually settled for 46,000 won.
Failed justice and secondary victimization
While Noh was the one responsible, Choi stressed that the state prosecutors and the judges who handled her case were “virtually accomplices” in putting the blame on her, the true victim.
Although most of the people related to the case have passed away, clippings of news stories at the time and the 1965 court verdict, acquired by The Korea Herald, show the pure absurdity, misogyny and secondary victimization that Choi was subjected to at that time.
An article on the Jan.12, 1965 edition of the Busan Ilbo bears the title "A kiss that cost a man his tongue" covering the court's sentencing of Choi Mal-ja. (Courtesy of the Korea Women's Hot-Line)
A Dec. 18, 1964 story in the Busan Ilbo told how the court requested a psychologist to consult about the “psychology of a virgin woman when she first kisses a man,” to determine whether Choi’s statement aligned with the behavior and characteristics expected of a virgin, as she had claimed to be.
An unnamed psychologist cited in a Kookje Shinmun article said that Choi biting the man’s tongue was “a result of a hysterical reaction” that came from a conflict of curiosity toward man and the instinct to protect herself.
The same paper on Oct. 21 that year reported that Choi was asked by the court if she had any intention to marry Noh, as suggested by his family.
Another Busan Ilbo article showed that Choi’s lawyer -- while claiming self-defense on the part of his client -- suggested that he himself would actively arrange a marriage between the two, since social norms would prevent either of them from marrying other people. The speech got a round of applause from those in court, the article reports.
Absurdity reached its pinnacle in the court's verdict, which stated that because Choi willingly followed Noh, whom she had never met before, on an invitation for a short walk, this could be “seen as a result of her curiosity toward the man, as she is in puberty,” which supposedly would have caused Noh to incorrectly assume that she could have been into him.
Therefore, Choi was “morally responsible in part” for Noh’s actions, the verdict continued.
A 1965 verdict by the Busan District Court on the Choi Mal-ja case that says her actions to fend off her attacker cannot be regarded as an act of self-defense. (Courtesy of the Korea Women's Hot-Line)
While acknowledging that Noh used force to open Choi’s mouth against her will, the verdict states that Choi’s response did not fall under the category of self-defense since he had not restrained her movement completely.
#MeToo, 56 years overdue
Throughout her life, two things about her past have ailed her. The first was the incident and the second was not being educated beyond elementary school.
Choi restarted her education in the late 2000s, which led her to enroll at the Korea National Open University in 2013. Eventually, she came across something that brought back dark memories from her past.
“There was a class titled ‘Sex, love and society,’ the content of which included sexual assault, domestic violence, human rights and gender equality,” she said. “Taking the class, it hit me: I was the victim of a sexual assault and attempted rape.
“I had always wanted to tell my story to someone, a famous storywriter, perhaps, but I had no perspective on what happened. (In the class) I learned about human rights and equality, and that I had the right to be protected,” she said. Choi went on to write a dissertation on the topic, and for a case study, she looked deeper into her own case.
Then, there came the #MeToo movement in late 2017 and 2018.
“I was hyped up, emotional. I was determined that society should not be this way and that I should contribute to (changing it)," she said.
With assistance from activists from the Korea Women’s Hot-Line, a local group supporting victims of sexual violence and domestic violence, Choi filed for a retrial in 2020.
So far, two courts have dismissed her requests on the grounds that an old court ruling cannot be reversed, even if it is wrong from today’s perspective.
The High Court, in 2021, however, clearly stated that she would not have been imprisoned if the case had happened today.
“If gender equality had been widely accepted (back in 1965) as an important virtue as it is today, and if deeply rooted and systematic gender discrimination had been less (severe), as it is today, we can say the applicant (Choi) would not have been sent to jail nor labeled the attacker,” it said.
“But the applicant’s indictment and trial occurred half a century ago in a different sociocultural context than today. We cannot overturn a past case just because times have changed,” it went on to say.
The Supreme Court should decide differently, Choi said, “If the Korean legal system is just and equal, as it claims.”
It was the court that turned a victim into the assailant. The court should correct its wrong, she stressed.
On her quest for justice, Choi has become a campaigner herself for the #MeToo movement and victims' rights in sexual harassment cases.
She doesn’t want to see the victims of sexual crimes endure what she had to go through.
“That is why I keep fighting ... There must be more victims among the younger generation who are afraid to come forward," she said.
“(The victims) should not have to bear the pain alone. It will not solve anything. They should reach out and consult others to get help.”
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