A still cut from the film "The Crucible"
By Kim Rahn
A group of netizens is calling for the reinvestigation of sexual assaults committed against hearing-impaired children at a regional school following the release of a film based on the events.
As of Tuesday evening, more than 40,000 Internet users had signed a petition demanding a new probe into sexual assaults perpetrated by teachers and school staff on students at Gwangju Inhwa School for years from 2000.
Following the calls, the Gwangju Metropolitan Office of Education organized a team to inspect the school six years after the incidents took place.
“The school foundation should apologize for the sexual assaults and come up with measures to prevent such things from recurring. Local authorities in charge should also reinvestigate the assaults and other human rights infringements at the school and punish those who neglected the case,” a member of a civic group said on Daum’s online petition site.
The film “The Crucible,” based on Gong Ji-young’s bestselling novel of the same title, deals with the true story that came to light in 2005.
According to the investigation at that time, six people including the headmaster sexually harassed or raped at least nine of their deaf students.
Of the six perpetrators, four received prison terms, while the other two escaped punishment because the statute of limitations for their crimes had expired. Among those jailed, two were released later after their terms were suspended.
The families of the victims did not appeal the case after the first trial; and some of the perpetrators are still working at the school.
Signing up for the petition, blogger “Bless” said, “There are people who are shameless. I call for due punishment for the wrongdoers and I hope the law enforcement authorities will make a decision out of good conscience.”
The civic group began the petition Sunday and plans to collect 50,000 signatures by Oct. 20. Calls from citizens are also flooding local authorities for reinvestigation into the case and a special inspection of the school.
But legal experts said that it’s impossible to reopen a case that has been closed with a court verdict.
The Gwangsan District Office, where the school is located, recently sent an official letter to the school foundation, requesting a change of its board of directors.
“The directors were not experts in school and disabled affairs, so we asked the foundation to replace them. We don’t have judicial powers, but we are devising proper inspection measures according to the law,” an official of the district office said.
The regional educational office issued an apology Tuesday and said, “As the office in charge of education for the disabled, we apologize for not having dealt with the case more actively.”
It said when a special public school for the disabled opens in 2013 it will move students from Inhwa to the new facility, with the original facility closing. About 20 students are currently at Inhwa.
The office also formed a special team to address the issue, but faced criticism for the belated action six years after the incident.
“Legal proceedings for those involved are all finished and they can’t be prosecuted for the same charges according to the law. What can the educational office do? Some perpetrators are still at the school, and the office has irresponsibly neglected the incident,” a blogger “Wow” said.
In a related development, Daum Communications has launched a 1-million signature-collecting campaign to change the criminal law so that statute of limitations for sexual crimes involving children will be abolished.