By Kim Tae-jong
Police said Thursday they will look into any further allegations of sexual assaults against disabled students by teachers at a regional school, bowing to growing public outrage in the wake of the release of a film based on the case.
The National Police Agency said it has formed a special team consisting of 15 police officers to reappraise sexual assaults perpetrated by teachers and school staff on students at Gwangju Inhwa School for years from 2000.
“With the growing calls for a reinvestigation, we decided to review all the allegations,” said Jung Ho-hyo, an officer from the National Police Agency. “We can’t reopen a case that has been closed with a court verdict, but we can launch a separate investigation into additional sexual assaults or bribery.”
The special team will investigate any new allegations of sexual assaults by teachers at the school, illegal connections between the school and regional education offices and internal corruption at the school, he said.
Most legal experts, however, are skeptical about the move as the police have to find hard evidence of new crimes, emphasizing those found guilty previously cannot legally be prosecuted on the same charges.
“By law, it’s impossible for a court to reverse a ruling when a case is closed,” lawyer Jang Jin-young said. “We need to see what the police can do but they must secure new evidence to prove extra charges or find out other criminals who have not been charged before.”
Fiction vs. truth
The movie, titled “The Crucible,” is about a newly-appointed art teacher at a school for hearing impaired children. He learns about sexual assaults on students by the school’s teachers and principal and tries to make the case public aided by a human rights activist.
But those involved only receive months-long probation in the movie, which made moviegoers furious, leading them to call for a reinvestigation of the case and harsh punishment for the wrongdoers.
Reacting to the criticism of “too soft punishment,” the Gwangju High Court, which heard the cases, drew a line between the real-life events and fiction.
“I think people should know the movie contains fictionalized parts,” Jang Jung-hee, a judge from the court, said. “It is different from the true story, especially about the court’s ruling.”
In reality, six people including the headmaster were charged with sexual harassment or rape of at least nine of their deaf students.
Of the six, 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 court could not sentence them to harsh punishments because the victims dropped the charges against the perpetrators. We were allowed to conduct legal proceedings only upon the accusation by victims at that time, before the related law was revised in 2010,” the judge said.
Regarding the growing public interest in the case, however, a civic group helping the victims for years asked people to support them in a more patient way.
“We ask people to support us in a more cool-headed manner. We don’t want people to show too excessive interest in the beginning and soon forget about us,” the Committee for Victims at Inhwa said in a statement.
Too excessive attention to the victims from the public and media can also cause them pain, they added.
Other people also demanded more practical changes to be made to prevent such an incident from happening again.
“If we want to stop such a horrible incident as shown in the movie, we should demand the revision of related laws,” Cho Kuk, law professor at Seoul National University, said.