The entrance of Gwangju Inhwa School for deaf students is closed, Thursday. A film based on the sexual assaults that took place at the special school for the disabled students is igniting a fury that the punishment of the offenders was insufficient. / Yonhap
By Kim Rahn
A movie currently running in cinemas is sparking a growing call for the revision of laws governing sexual crimes against the disabled and minors.
“The Crucible,” a film based on the true story about school staff sexually assaulting hearing impaired students, is adding mounting pressure on policymakers and politicians to change the laws on sexual assaults on children and welfare foundations.
Amid hectic public and media attention on the film with the Korean title “Dogani,” depicts how teachers at Gwangju Inhwa School, a special school for the deaf, sexually assaulted or harassed the students for years. The case didn’t draw much attention when it was disclosed in 2005, but now the public says the loose legal system gave the perpetrators light penalties that don’t properly fit their crimes.
Civic groups and bloggers are organizing a campaign to abolish the statute of limitations for sexual crimes against children, as some of the accused teachers weren’t even punished at all as the legal time line expired.
An online petition for the abolishment began Tuesday by the father of a female victim who has suffered from serious physical and mental agony after being raped three years ago. According to the relevant law revised in April last year, the statute of limitations for child victims begins when the victim becomes an adult, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family said. The limitations differ according to each crime.
“Sexual assault on a child is like murdering a soul. The physical or mental wound remains forever, but the offender can avoid punishment after a certain period. The statute of limitation for such assaults should be abolished,” the father said.
With the goal to collect 1 million signatures for the petition, about 10,000 have already signed.
Rep. Park Min-shik of the Grand National Party (GNP) also submitted a revision bill Wednesday.
The second legal issue is a clause about “inability to resist.” The clause was originally meant to punish sexual assaulters on people who are in a physical or mental state unable to resist normally.
But civic groups claimed the law is rather unfavorable for the disabled.
In the Inhwa school case, a local court cleared two of the perpetrators of the charges, ruling that two hearing-impaired victims, 13 and 14, were “not in a situation that they were unable to resist.”
Prosecutors appealed and claimed that the victims were unable to resist because they had not only hearing but also mental problems and could express only simple opinions in sign language.
They added the students were afraid of the teachers who had frequently beaten them, and the victims couldn’t resist by shouting.
But the high court also acquitted the teachers.
Civic groups for the disabled have demanded the removal of the clause from the Special Law on Sexual Crimes.
Rep. Choi Young-hee of the opposition Democratic Party has submitted a revision bill, designed to remove the controversial clause, to the National Assembly, but it is still pending at parliament.
Another legal loophole in the Inhwa case is the clause that an investigation into a sexual assault could be launched only when the victim files a petition. At that time, one of the offenders received suspended terms as he came to an agreement with the victim on compensation and the victim dropped the petition.
The law was changed last year, so that a probe into sexual crimes on children can be launched without a victim’s petitions.
On top of the legal hurdles, government and lawmakers are moving to address moral problems surrounding welfare foundations and institutions for the disabled.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare said Thursday that it will inspect through the 119 service to check on such facilities nationwide to probe possible human rights infringement.
Rep. Chin Soo-hee of the GNP plans to propose a bill to secure transparency and prevent “nepotism” at welfare foundations. At Inhwa, relatives of the foundation’s founder have taken almost all of the high-ranking positions at the school and the board of directors, hushing up the illegalities.
According to Chin’s proposal, welfare foundations must report their accounting and donation lists in detail to the relevant authorities and amend the director appointment system, while the central and local authorities will have to strengthen inspections on them.