The new Netflix Korean drama ‘Extraordinary Attorney Woo’ is taking over media headlines due to its rapid rise in popularity. The show marked 67.01 million hours of viewing in just the first week of August and was ranked the number 1 show on Netflix. This series tells the story of Woo Young-woo, a young lawyer with Asperger’s syndrome, joining a major law firm,- taking on several different kinds of cases and winning. She often faces prejudice because of her autism, however, wins the cases by identifying details nobody else can find. Episode 10 ‘Holding Hands Can Wait’ focused on a lawsuit between a man named “Yang Jeong-il” who was charged with taking advantage of a woman named Shin Hye-young, who has an intellectual disability. This episode concentrates on the sexual rights of a person with intellectual disabilities. Not only should we understand the story, but also the core point relating to the existing dilemma of an intellectually disabled person’s right to sexual expression in our society.
|▲ Poster of Netflix Korean Drama ‘Extraordinary Attorney Woo’ (Photo from ENA)|
In the episode, attorney Woo urged the defendant to plead not guilty based on a conversation that took place in an app called ‘Alkongdalkong’ (meaning lovey-dovey). The defendant and victim each used the pet name “FHH” which means “Fool for Shin Hye-young”, and “FFY” which means “Fool For Yang Jeong-il” in the app. Even after having sexual intercourse, they chatted as before, expressing affection and planning to go on further dates. The attorney explained that this can be seen as a loving chat between a generic couple, not the sexual assault of a victim by an assailant. However, what was at stake was the victim's self-harm because of the supposed relationship. The prosecution used the victim’s damaged hand to urge that Shin was extremely stressed from the one-sided sexual advances. After the episode aired, various opinions surfaced on whether Shin, a person with intellectual disabilities, properly exercised her right to sexual expression when she had intercourse. Those who claimed the relationship between Yang and Shin was true love said that people need to respect the sexual rights of the intellectually disabled. They believe that the idea that the intellectually disabled are incapable of doing anything for themselves, and their constant overprotection will poison them. Those who believe that intercourse with an intellectually disabled person is sexual assault disagreed. According to the Act-On Special Cases Concerning the Punishment of Sexual Crimes, if a disabled person is in the condition of inability, the intercourse is considered rape even if there was no assault or threat. Many argue that their sexual intercourse cannot be defined as a consensual act because Shin showed a lack of knowledge about sex and was therefore incapable of offering consent.
|▲ Gwangju Court of Justice (Photo from The Korea Herald)|
This episode was loosely based on an actual proceeding, known as the ‘Gokseong case’ where the defendant Mr. Yoon, was charged with sexually exploiting an intellectually disabled individual and using them as forced labor for 17 years. The suspect, a male in his 80s, was charged with sexually assaulting and molesting a victim in her 60s, with a third-grade intellectual capacity. The problems began in 2001 when the intellectually disabled individual’s mother-in-law died, she was forced to find work on Yoon’s farm where he, sexually assault and molested the victim four times during her nearly 20 years of employment. In the end, Mr. Yoon was acquitted in 'the Gokseong case'. There are three reasons for this. First, there was no threat or violence from Mr. Yoon. In addition, in the process of estimating the victim's social age to be about 8 years and 8 months, the court judged that the victim recognized the meaning of sex and exercised their right to sexual self-expression to some extent. Specifically, the court said, "It is true that there was sexual contact, but I was not sure that it was an act of suppressing A's sexual freedom." It was also concluded that A's work on the farm helped each other and was therefore, -not a case of exploitation of labor. The ruling was controversial because it contradicted precedents that define acts as irresistible even if there is no active resistance from intellectually disabled people. Accordingly, the issue is whether the rights to sexual expression of the intellectually disabled should be recognized, and if so, how far the scope of recognition should be.
The Dankook Herald (DKH) interviewed Professor Kim Rae-young from Dankook University (DKU)’s Dept. of Law and Professor Nam Kyung-wook from the Dept. of Special Education about the ability of the intellectually disabled to demonstrate sexual expression. “In the ‘Gokseong case’, evidence other than just the victim’s statement was considered,” Professor Kim explained. Evidence such as the victim’s remarks that she could outfight the accused if need be and, -the fact that the accused tried to kill himself by taking poison to appeal for his innocence, played important roles in the verdict. Thus, it can’t be affirmed that statements of the intellectually disabled are completely dismissed as a lot of circumstantial evidence is considered during trials. Professor Kim explained the court did not simply judge the ability of the victim to express herself sexually in the ‘Gokseong case’ upon her estimated social age. Instead, the judge considered all the elements such as the relationship between the victim and the accused, and the actions of the accused, the victim’s cognition and reaction, etc. Professor Nam views the rights to sexual expression for the intellectually disabled as a complex matter that needs to be assessed from various angles. “We need to undergo careful consideration on whether it is right to interfere in one’s sexual expression based on their cognitive ability, especially when the disabled is an adult, not a minor,” Professor Nam said. There are still many outstanding factors that need to be addressed with intellectually disabled people. Rather than being too busy to act, members of our society should prioritize pondering a way to understand and solve these issues together. Professor Kim pointed out that the only way to avert abuse is to judge the elements of the crime by victims’ consent like other countries do. However, when it comes to the intellectually disabled, we must strictly judge whether it was a ‘genuinely heartful consent.’
Sexual assault on disabled people should be severely punished. This kind of matter should not occur under any circumstances. However, respecting the rights of the intellectually disabled to sexual expression should be the social norm. Furthermore, sexual expression should not be considered as an ability, such as the power to defend yourself, but rather as one’s right. Our society still has a long way to go in resolving this problem. Preventing its reoccurrence should be our priority.
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