In late March 2021, a mother and her two daughters were found dead in their home in Seoul’s Nowon district. The horrific crime has now been labelled as a “stalking-based” crime by a man whose identity was withheld by authorities and was only known as “Kim Mo”. The public, including students on Ewha’s Everytime, a school network community, has raged through a public petition that garnered over 250,000 signatures and eventually led to the disclosure of the man’s identity.
Stalking has frequently been at the crux of serious crimes and this spurred the Stalking Crime Penalty Act to decisively pass on March 24, 2021, by the National Assembly. It is anticipated to operate as a stronger protection for potential victims.
Previously, stalking was only regarded as a misdemeanor, but now perpetrators are to be sentenced to a maximum three-year prison sentence or be fined up to 30 million won. Perpetrators with cases involving weapons or other harmful objects would face five years of imprisonment or a 50 million won fine.
Moreover, under the name of “Emergency Action,” specified in Clause 4 and 9, the act now involves measures of immediately separating the victims from assailants with at least a 100-meter gap between and additionally banning approach through telecommunication.
Jang Hye-yeong, a legislator of the Justice Party and the chief author of the new bill, reflected on the importance of the new law in light of the serious status quo of stalking crimes, especially for women. “Considering that many severe crimes in which women are victims stem from stalking, a fundamental measure was needed,” said Jang, in an interview with Ewha Voice.
Although there were numerous trials, 22 years passed before the stalking crime bill came to the point of enactment. Jang blamed the “lack of attention and willingness of the National Assembly,” and linked it to the reality, which is that the Assembly is mainly made up of men in their 50s.
“Some laws are quickly discussed and easily enacted by the needs of large parties. However, some laws, despite their engagement with the lives of the people, are treated trivially even after they are proposed,” Jang said.
The new law holds a critical significance compared to the past, as it now actually refers to stalking as a criminal act. For Jang, this will bring much-needed improvements to how stalking will be dealt with in the future as it will no longer be considered as “private affairs” and will be able to offer protection for those before potential injuries or acts of violence occur.
Unfortunately, the bill does still have some shortcomings. According to Jang, the new law does not cover forms of digital harassment of victims such as taking photos or videos. This decision was made through considering that these types of behaviors are already covered in other sexual violence laws. However, the sexual violence law is only enforced based on sexualhumiliation, which is difficult to frame as “stalking.”
“Laws for protection should be discussed and, most of all, we should define the government’s responsibility to make stalking come to an end,” Jang said.
Stalking takes many forms and often victims hesitate to report the crimes as there is a constant fear of retaliation from the perpetrators.
“I have been stalked by an academy teacher and the fact that he knew my personal information was the most horrifying to me,” said an Ewha student who wished to remain anonymous. “It means that he could retaliate whenever he wants, so I could not report him.”
One major flaw in the Stalking Crime Penalty Act is that perpetrators cannot be prosecuted if the victim does not want to press charges.
“There are numerous stalking cases committed by people with overlapping social relationships in between, such as acquaintances or former lovers,” the student said. “The new bill failed to prevent this flaw. I hope it will be revised to relieve the burdens on victims and prevent threats from occurring in the first place.”
However, with many other serious issues in society, greater awareness of the issue of stalking should also be emphasized. “Education regardingstalking should also be offered to tackle the fundamental causes – just like all other crimes,” the student said.