Courts slammed for light sentences on sex offenders
Sex offenders often get away with suspended jail terms
By Yun Suh-young
Judges are under fire for being too lenient with sex offenders by handing down suspended jail sentences.
Civic groups are calling on courts to get tougher with sex offenders as part of efforts to crack down and prevent the recurrence of sex crimes, especially on minors.
Critics even blame judges for contributing to the rise in the number of sexual assaults on women and children.
On Thursday, a 7-year-old girl was kidnapped and raped by a 23-year-old neighbor and left abandoned under a bridge wrapped in a blanket in Naju, South Jeolla Province, sending shockwaves through the nation once again.
This case comes after a man in his 40s broke into an apartment and raped and killed a housewife in her 30s in Seoul on Aug. 20.
At the National Criminal Judges Forum in Busan, Friday, justices discussed the problem of light sentencing for sexual crimes and ways to prevent handing down weak punishments.
According to a report from the Office of Court Administration presented at the forum, the number of sex offenders given a suspended sentence in the first trial increased by 6.8 percentage points from 41.3 percent (199 out of 482) in 2010 to 48.1 percent (225 out of 468) last year. The numbers were for sex crimes committed on children 13 and under.
The percentage of judges giving out suspended sentences or a fine in all sex crime cases also increased from 51.1 percent in 2010 to 54.2 percent last year.
The number of prison sentences given to those indicted of rape or other sexual assaults decreased last year by 1 to 2 percent but the percentage of suspended sentences given for sexual harassment increased by about 10 percent.
The percentage of judges sentencing life imprisonment for sex crimes also decreased 3 percent.
The punishment, when compared to those of developed nations in the West, is far too lenient.
In the United States, sex criminals are given long jail sentences and even life imprisonment. The courts are also generally much harder on those committing sex crimes against children.
According to the Protection of Children From Sexual Predators Act, legislated in 1998, anyone sexually offending a juvenile or sexually exploiting a child, unless sentenced to death, is sentenced to life imprisonment if the victim is under age 14 and dies as a result of the offense.
In Britain, anyone committing rape is liable to life imprisonment. As for sexual assault, a person guilty of the offense is liable, on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years. The term is lengthened if the child is under 13 to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years.
Korean law states that anyone committing rape on a child under 13 will be sentenced to life or over 10 years in prison. Rapists are often given sentences ranging from over five to seven years.
The problem is that many sexual assault cases end in a settlement. According to the report presented at the forum, the percentage of judges giving out probation ranged from 63.7 percent to 89.6 percent when there was a settlement reached between the victim and the perpetrator. When there was no settlement, only 3.3 percent of child rape and 46.4 percent of sexual harassment cases ended with a suspended sentence.
“We need to discuss whether to reject considering settlements as a final factor in our rulings,” said a judge from a Busan district court participating in the forum.
Jail terms are the norm and probation is an exception in court verdicts if there is no settlement reached but when an agreement is reached between the two sides, probation becomes the norm and jail sentence an exception.