Monday, May 02, 2016

Thoughts on the low age of consent and light sentences

While trying to find out more about this incredibly messed-up case - about a couple who beat their teenage daughter to death and then kept her body in the house for the better part of a year - I came across the following Joongang Ilbo news story by reporter Kim Min-gwan, from September 16 last year:
A man in his twenties who even received the motel fee from a 13-year-old schoolgirl found guilty of prostitution

A man in his twenties who met a 13-year-old runaway schoolgirl for sex but argued he wasn't guilty and said that "The schoolgirl paid more of the motel fee so it wasn't prostitution" was found guilty.

Seoul Eastern District Court announced on the 16th that is that it [sentenced] Mr. Lee (22), who had been charged with contravening the Law for Sexual Protection of Children and Youth, to a one-year sentence suspended for two years and ordered him to attend 40 hours of sexual assault treatment classes.

Mr. Lee came to know A (13) on June 10, 2015 via a smartphone chatting application. Learning that A had run away and needed a place to sleep he promised, "If you come to my house, I can put you up," and the next morning he called her out to the Uijeongbu Station area.

When he met A, Lee said, "It's hot right now, so let’s go and rest," and took A to a nearby motel. The motel fee was 20,000 won but Lee had only 8000 won in his pocket. Lee asked A, "Can you pay a little bit?" and got 10,000 won from her and, after getting a 2000 won discount, paid the motel fee.

After they had sex, Lee said, "My parents came home early so I can't put you put you up," and left A and returned home.

In court Lee claimed that "Since I had never promised to put her up at my house and I paid 8000 won of the motel fee but A paid 10,000 won, it wasn't buying sex."

Subsequently he protested that "Since A looked 20ish in her chatting program profile photo, in which she was wearing makeup, I didn't think she was a minor."

However, the court said, "It doesn't make any sense that you saw her face and didn't know she was 13." "Seeming to offer to put up a runaway victim at your house and meeting [her], you acted to buy sex to satisfy your sexual desire, and the fact that even after that you left her and ignored the fact that she was penniless because of you makes the nature of the crime very bad."

It added, "Because she expected that the defendant would give him a place to stay afterwards, she readily gave 10,000 won." "The defendant fully acknowledged the fact that he promised to provide payment for things like a place to stay and that, expecting this, A acceded to sex."

A court official said, "The amount of money when providing payment for prostitution does not matter; if it's true that payment is provided, then [the fact of] prostitution is established."
After moving on from my amazement at how someone could be that much of a scumbag, what I found interesting is that the defendant was content to suggest that he'd had consensual sex with a minor (though he did try to say "she looked 20ish"). Back in mid-2013 laws were changed regarding sex crimes (see here and here), particularly against minors, but these clearly did not affect age of consent, which is still 13, though there are certain limitations, as pointed out in this case, as well as its follow-up, higher-court appeal ruling, as described over at As is noted there, having sex with someone between the ages of 13 and 18 is not a crime unless you did so "by authority/deception" (though not by "position of authority"), while having sex with someone 12 years old or younger is "a crime (unless you had no way of knowing)." Even the latter part seems to have wiggle room (as it did in a case in Gangneung a few years ago where an instructor in an elementary school was initially let off by police for having sex with a 12 year old student because they were "in love" - until they found out he was also "in love" with a 15 year old former student).

In the case I translated above, the man was only given a suspended sentence, and in this case, from 2009, a man was sentenced only to 6 months in prison for paying for sex with an 11 year-old girl (and that 6 month sentence was seen as 'severe' punishment, despite the maximum sentence being 3 years). Most famously, in the "Na-yeong case," where a man raped an 8 year-old girl who "lost 80 percent of her colon and genital organs," the defendant had three years knocked off the maximum sentence of 15 years because "I was drunk" was considered a defense. What we see in these cases is that there doesn't seem to be any desire to give out maximum punishment to men who sexually assault or exploit children. One possible reason for this is described in a Joongang Ilbo editorial written when sex crime laws were changed in mid-2013:
The revisions are only a step forward, although a significant one. A bigger problem is our society’s misperceptions about sex crimes. According to a survey of policemen in small and mid-sized cities in South Gyeongsang, a whopping 53.8 percent said that sexual violence occurs due to women’s sexy dressing. Thirty-seven percent said it’s a woman’s fault when she is sexually attacked while drunk. That clearly illustrates our society’s generosity toward men’s sexual impulses.
You know there's a problem when the police answer this way (though perhaps we won't be too surprised by such attitudes coming from "small and mid-sized cities in South Gyeongsang," considering what happened in Miryang in 2004 - but it's sad to see these attitudes hadn't changed ten years later.

Daniel Tudor pointed out something that has been overlooked:
There have been attempts to raise the age of consent, such as that of then-Grand National Party lawmaker Kwon Seong-dong, who tried to lift it to 16 in 2012. I am mystified as to why it is still 13. With the ever-increasing concern over child protection, I doubt any political party would have anything to lose by throwing its weight behind a legal change here.
And yet this attempt to raise the age of consent went nowhere. As one ponders this fact in the light of lenient sentence after lenient sentence for those who sexually assault or exploit minors, one might be tempted to reach some rather unpleasant conclusions.