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That’s Stalking, Not Romance!

Recently, there have been many vicious incidents related to stalking in Korea. In turn, the Stalking Punishment Act has finally been legislated and will take effect in October. As stalking is now recognized as a “crime” through this law, heavy punishment can be given; however, there are voices that say that the law still needs to be improved. Therefore, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) would like to introduce stalking and the law that aims to stop it, as well as discover the limitations and the direction of the law.

Stalking, Emerging as a Serious Crime

What Is Stalking?

The Stalking Punishment Act states that “stalking” implies particular actions against another person’s will that cause anxiety or fear. These actions include following a person, repeatedly sending emails or text messages, and even delivering or damaging objects. In this context, a stalking crime refers to continuous and repeatable stalking behaviors, and thousands of stalking crimes have been reported in Korea. The National Police Agency (NPA) reports that there were 4,515 cases in 2020. However, management and punishment for the reports were inadequate. According to a document from the NPA, in 2020, 89.2% of cases ended on the spot without any countermeasures to both the victim and the stalker. Therefore, assailants didn’t get appropriate punishments, and victims didn’t receive adequate protection due to a slap on the wrist.

Stalking, a Serious Crime (kihoilbo.co.kr)

Why Is Stalking a Serious Problem?

First, many assailants do not recognize their actions as stalking. The assailant’s distorted sense of possession of the other person is revealed in the form of crime. Also, stalking crimes often occur between couples, especially those who broke up. On this occasion, since the assailant and the victim were very close, the assailant harasses tenaciously, and the victim can feel very afraid. Stalking is also a forerunner of other violent crimes because it often combines with multiple crimes and becomes more violent as time goes by. The Nowon-gu case, in which Kim Tae-hyun killed a mother and two daughters after stalking them in March, is an example of this. So, if victims aren’t fully protected and assailants aren’t punished properly, there is the possibility of more severe crimes and damage. Lastly, the aftereffects of stalking can be agonizing. According to the Maeil Business News, a woman suffered from insomnia and paranoia after being stalked. Even though the victims are not always physically injured, their souls can be destroyed due to endless fear and anxiety.

Kim Tae-hyun, the Assailant of the Murder Case in Nowon-gu (news.joins.com)

Efforts to Stop Stalking and the Limitations

Legislation to Stop Stalking

Recently, the National Assembly has conceded the seriousness of stalking crimes and has approved the Stalking Punishment Act. Stalking was originally considered a misdemeanor with a fine of over 100,000 won. However, according to the new law, if stalking continues and repeats, imprisonment of up to three years or a fine of up to 30 million won will be given, and this amount is the same as other felonies. Plus, if the assailant possesses a weapon, an imprisonment term and fine will be even stricter. Also, the police can strongly exercise their authority under their own decisions more than before. For example, if a stalking report is received, the police can take emergency measures such as enforcing a 100 meters approach prohibition and then obtain ex post facto approval from a district judge. This newly legislated law is receiving support because of its harsher punishment and immediate measures.

Efforts to Legislate Laws on the Punishment of Stalking (naon.go.kr)

Limitations of the Law

1. Ambiguity of Definition of Stalking

Stalking is regarded as a crime only when “continuity and repeatability” are approved. However, since there is no specific standard for “continuity and repeatability,” victims need to vindicate their harassment. Then, secondary victimization is inevitable as they should be recognized as the victim. Furthermore, the phrase “against the other person’s will” can be confirmed only when the assailant recognizes the victim’s mind overtly. Nevertheless, if the victim is afraid of revenge and has difficulty in expressing their opinions, or the assailant claims that he or she didn’t recognize the victim’s overt refusal, the assailant will hardly get punished.

2. Limitations of Clauses Included

Unlike most of the other felony laws, the Stalking Punishment Act includes clauses like crimes “not prosecuted against objection of the victim” and “emergency measures”; but there exist limitations. The crime that is “not prosecuted against objection of the victim” clause means a crime that cannot be punished against the victim’s will. Thus, if the victim drops charges against the assailant, the court cannot punish the assailant. The assailant could abuse this clause by persistently demanding settlement and withdrawing charges with compulsion. So, experts including forensic psychology professor, Lee Soo-jung, assert that this clause must be deleted. Furthermore, some people question whether the physical distance of 100 meters stated in the “emergency measures” is safe enough for the victim. This measure seems invalid because only a fine will be given even if the assailant violates this measure.

3. Insufficient Protective Measures for the Victims

Lastly, protective measures for the victim and the people around them, such as housemates and families, are deficient. When the victim reports to the police, there is a high chance of retaliatory crime not only to the victim but also to the victim’s family and friends. An essential protective law, however, is not specifically legislated for the victim. There is no specific regulation on personal safety measures, so victims cannot be protected quickly, leading to secondary damage. Therefore, there should be resolutions to resolve these problems and adequately protect the victims.

Secondary Victimization Caused by Limitations of the Law (biz.chosun.com)

Eradicate Stalking from Society!

Changes in Recognition and Definition of Stalking

There needs to be a definitive interpretation of stalking. In fact, a single stalking action can lead to harassment as well. Thus, instead of conceding the continuity and the repeatability, immediately giving punishments according to the types of stalking would be more appropriate. Also, since the standard of “against the other person’s will” cannot be confirmed if the victim’s overt refusal is not recognized, it should be changed to “without the other person’s overt agreement”. For example, with the previous standard, it is hard to punish the stalker if the victim doesn’t recognize that the stalker is secretly tailing someone and taking photos. On the other hand, if the standard is changed to the latter one, the actions can be easily recognized as a crime because it is done without agreement.

Appropriate Perception Through Education

Many stalkers believe their actions are not “stalking” and are perhaps unable to distinguish between love and harassment. Moreover, selfish assailants have emerged who put their feelings first and do not respect others as human beings. There should be more awareness of stalking because stalking is accompanied by stronger punishments as the law is legislated. Particularly, as victims are now placed in a blind spot due to the enforcement date of the legislated law, media and public service advertisements should consistently introduce the law.

Substantive Protection System for Victims

Unlike other crimes such as sexual abuse, the Stalking Punishment Act includes both laws about the punishment and the protection, which does not have any effective contents of support for victims. Seo Hye-jin, a lawyer specializing in sex crimes at the Lighthouse Law Office, claimed that “A law of protection of stalking victims should be made separately.” If the prohibition of unfavorable disposition of victims and the personal safety measures are established as a protection law, victims will be better protected. In addition, there should be an invigoration of utilizing protective shelters to provide services, such as accommodations and legal support. Preparing various procedures of protection will protect victims from the early stages of stalking and prevent secondary damages.

Stalking can cause the victim to suffer both physically and psychologically. To prevent this, there should be stronger and systematic laws; however, many people claim that the Stalking Punishment Act still cannot perfectly protect the victims. That being said, while enacting the law, there should be a process of overcoming limitations. The SKT hopes that in an increasingly connected world, society can become more aware of stalking and protect victims better.

이혜준  hj928123@naver.com

<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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