[Newsmaker] “It’s not harassment if you don’t pick up”

A local court recently cleared a 54-year-old man of harassment allegations, despite the defendant apparently harassing his ex-girlfriend with repeated phone calls. The logic of the verdict? She didn’t answer the phone.

“While (the accused) called, the ex-girlfriend did not speak to him on the phone. The sound of the telephone ringing cannot be considered as the sound that was transmitted to the recipient via the information and communication….Even if recordings of unanswered calls (from the accused) had appeared on his phone, this is only a function of the phone and cannot be taken as a sign sent by the ‘accused,’ the Incheon District Court said in its ruling.

Although the verdict sparked a public outcry, it was revealed that similar decisions to drop harassment charges because the victim did not answer the phone had occurred at least three other times this year.

The latest dispute added to the question: Is the year-long stalking law actually effective in fighting crime?

This photo is not directly related to the story. (123rf)

“Bullying is five types of behavior”

The Harassment Crimes Punishment Act came into effect in October last year amid growing public awareness of the seriousness of stalking crimes.

Under the law, five specific types of behavior constitute harassment: 1) approaching the subject, following or blocking their path; 2) wait or spy on the subject at his residence, place of work, school or wherever he regularly stays; 3) use mail, telephone, fax or any type of information and communication system to provide code, words, sound, images or films; (4) delivering an Item or Items to the Subject in person or through a third party or leaving such Item(s) near or at the Subject’s home; 5) damage an object or objects near or at the subject’s residence.

But the law’s implementation so far has exposed several cracks in the armor, with phone calls apparently going unanswered.

The Korean Women Lawyers Association, in response to the latest ruling on unanswered appeals, criticized the court for narrowly interpreting the stalker clause, which it says prevented the law from achieving its goal. initial – protect victims from their attackers.

The current law, by limiting the definition of harassment to five types, does not cover the different forms of harassment that occur in real life, the group claimed.

Regarding the unanswered appeals case, the basis of the court’s decision was a 2005 Supreme Court decision. Simply ringing the phone is not enough because “content that arouses fear in the form of sound”, as defined by the law on information and communication networks, said the high court at the time, whose logic was repeated in the case. aforementioned decision.

“(This ruling) ignored that the legislative purpose of the Information and Communications Networks Act and the Harassment Crimes Punishment Act are completely different, with the former seeking to protect those who use the network and the second aimed at protecting those who have fallen victim to stalking,” the KWLA said.

The prosecution appealed the case.

“Repeated calls are a classic act of harassment, and the presence of unanswered calls is enough to strike terror and unease in the victim. … Anti-harassment law clearly states that an act (of an offender) of spying the victim or waiting near the victim’s residence is a form of harassment. It is unfair to say that for phone calls, whether the victim picks up or not determines whether it is a crime or not.” , the prosecution said.

More vulnerabilities revealed

Even with the anti-harassment law in place, the tragedies have continued, some highlighting the limits of the law.

In September, a 31-year-old man named Jeon Joo-hwan killed his former colleague who was on duty at a Seoul subway station, after the victim refused to drop charges against him for harassment and unlawful filming. Faced with the prospect of nine years in prison, the man reluctantly murdered the woman.

The case led to a public review of the current law which states that the perpetrator cannot be prosecuted if the victim objects. Experts say this puts pressure on the victim and potentially exposes them to further danger, as stalkers know they can roam free with the victim’s consent.

Last month, in response to growing public calls, the Justice Department said it would seek to revise the law so that stalkers can be punished regardless of what the victim says.

“Because the (harassment) case can be dropped simply if the victim agrees to do so, it can lead to the (offender) threatening and harassing the victim. In the end, the offender may hold a grudge and even kill the victim,” Lee Soo-jung, professor of forensic psychology at Kyonggi University, said in a media interview, calling for the clause to be removed.

Jeon Joo-hwan, a suspect in a stalking and murder case at Shindang Station on the Seoul subway, is taken to prosecutors by police on September 21.  (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

Jeon Joo-hwan, a suspect in a stalking and murder case at Shindang Station on the Seoul subway, is taken to prosecutors by police on September 21. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

Before the September murder, there was another murder in February that raised questions about the limits of the law on harassment.

On February 15, a woman who was under police protection was killed by her stalker minutes before police could come to her aid. The killer was found dead the next day in an apparent suicide.

It was later revealed that police had applied for a warrant for the killer four days before the crime. But the request was denied by the prosecution, who saw the need for further investigation to substantiate the suspicion of harassment.

While the law states that “consecutive or repeated” acts of harassment are punishable, the victim had only made a police report once, four days before his death.

This photo is not directly related to this article.  (123rf)

This photo is not directly related to this article. (123rf)

Another contentious issue in the law concerns the phrase “against the will of the victim”.

Harassment is described as the five types of behaviors mentioned above, repeated or systematically and against the will of the subject of the actions.

“With the clause, the investigative body must prove that the defendant’s action is against the victim’s will, which could ultimately lead to more pressure on the victim,” Lee Hyeon-jeong wrote, Professor of Police Administration at Shinhan University. in his article, “Problems and Measures for Improvement of the ‘Stalking Crimes Punishment Act’.”

Lee suggested revising the clause to “the crime of harassment refers to persisting in such action despite being warned by authorities, such as the police, once or more.”

He noted that despite its shortcomings, the enactment of the anti-harassment law is important to sensitize society to the crime and the need to protect the victim.

“Even though (the anti-harassment law) has some flaws, it has an important significance in that it is the first step towards punishing crimes of harassment,” Lee wrote.

By Yoon Min-sik ([email protected])

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