On March 23, in Nowon-Gu, Seoul, three family members, a mother and her two daughters, were murdered by a 24-year-old male stalker of one of the victims. According to the police, the suspect Kim Tae-hyeon was found in the home of the victims, with self-inflicted wounds, three days after the murders took place. He was stalking the older sister, who had complained to friends about his behavior long before the tragic incident happened. The pair got to know each other through an online game and the suspect was upset after being turned down once he revealed his feelings for her. His grudge turned violent when he entered the girl’s apartment and murdered her younger sister. Five hours later, he killed the mother and the older daughter.
|▲ Kim Tae-Hyeon is answering the questions from journalists on April 9. (Photo from Newsis)|
Although a month and a half month has passed since the triple murder made headlines, the public is still outraged by the events and are calling on the government and police to develop effective legislation that will prevent this type of violence from happening again in the future. Under the current law, perpetrators only face a minor fine or misdemeanor imprisonment after repeated offences, leaving victims virtually helpless to defend and protect themselves.
In the face of public outrage, Congress responded by finally passing the ‘Stalking Crime Penalty Act’. Under the new law, which takes effect in September, stalkers can face up to five years in prison if the actions are continuous and repeated. More specifically, the perpetrator can be sentenced up to three years in prison with a fine of up to 30 million won or face up to five years in prison with a fine of up to 50 million won if a dangerous weapon is involved. Police are also authorized to take emergency deterrence measures such as issuing warnings of punishment, and minor detention in the early stages of stalking.
|▲ Members of Democratic Party of Korea are demanding 'Stalking Crime Penalty Act’. (Photo from News1)|
While on the surface, the bill seems to be effective enough to address the crime, critics argue it does little in the way of prevention and protection for victims. Under the legislation, the harassment must be persistent, and the target must feel anxiety or stress from the perpetrator’s actions. According to some, this proves the government does not understand the nature of harassment. It victimizes the target by forcing them to qualify only once the harassment has progressed to a dangerous level. In addition, there is no clear protection if the harassment is by a domestic partner or family member. Moreover, the new law is seen as too little too late since it is not applicable in this case. Legislation to prevent stalking has been on the table for discussion since 1999.
There is also controversy surrounding the exposure of the perpetrator’s personal details. Under the Minor Offenses Act, the culprit’s identity was made public on April 5. According to Article 3 of Act, it is possible to disclose the identity of a person who tries to approach and repeatedly harass others against their will. Under the Special Act on the Punishment of Specific Violent Crimes, information such as the suspect’s face, name, age, may be disclosed. However, this type of personal information can only be disclosed after four requirements are met. First, it should be a specific violent crime where the means of the crime are brutal and serious damage has occurred. Second, there should be sufficient evidence to believe that the suspect committed the crime. Next, it should be deemed necessary for the public good, such as guaranteeing the people's right to know, preventing the suspect from re-offending, and preventing future crimes. Last, the suspect should not be a juvenile protected under the Juvenile Protection Act. As such, the disclosure of personal information carefully considers the human rights of suspects and should not be abused. Seung Jae-hyun, a researcher at the Korea Institute for Criminal Policy, said, "If such a problem cannot be disclosed due to concerns over secondary damage, it will lose its institutional meaning." Oh Chang-ik, secretary-general of the Human Rights Alliance, said, "In this case, the decision to disclose personal information seems to have come from growing public demand, including a Blue House national petition."
Under the new law, the term stalking means the act of repeatedly giving fear and anxiety to others in various ways against their will. It took 22 years to get it passed when it should have been common sense in place long ago. People have been voicing the need for protection against stalkers for many years. However, there is no use wondering what would have happened if a stronger law existed prior to this case. People still feel badly about the delayed legislation and the appalling crime that resulted. An investigation into the case, and preparation for the trial is proceeding. Police and the criminal courts should consider this crime serious, and decide on the proper penalty for a triple murder. In the meantime, the government should be continuously looking for ways to strengthen the Anti-Stalking law so that it prevents tragedies like this one from ever happening again.
김주예, 김건희, 박지안, 정소연 firstname.lastname@example.org