Most people may have felt like someone was following them going home late at night. ‘Stalking’ means continuously and repeatedly performing acts that can cause a victim to experience fear and anxiety in various ways. This can also be extended to the victim’s family, or a cohabitant. The Stalking Punishment Act defines five acts of stalking.
The stalking victim feels fear and is threatened by the perpetrator. The National Police Agency shows that since the stalking law came into force last year, 7,152 stalking arrests have been made, with only 5% of the suspects detained. In cases where police applied to the courts to get the suspect detained, one in three requests was denied.
Stalking can lead to violent crime. ‘The stalking murder at Sindang Station in Seoul’ on Sept. 14 is a typical case. 31-year-old Jeon Joo-hwan stalked a female station employee while wielding a weapon. The 28-year-old victim had been working her usual evening shift at the subway station, unaware that she was being watched. Jeon Joo-hwan, who committed the murder, continuously stalked her for about two years. He left more than 350 phone calls and text messages, threatening and harassing her. In response, she sued Jeon Joo-hwan in Oct. 2021, but he was released three days later when the court rejected the arrest warrant. In Aug. 2022, the prosecution finally demanded a nine-year prison term for stalking. He later said, “I planned the crime against her after being sentenced to nine years in prison by the prosecution.” He meticulously prepared the crime at least 11 days in advance. He purchased a shower cap and plastic gloves, to destroy evidence. Also, he identified her work schedule at Gusan Station on the day of the crime.
Stalking her was a clear signal of his intention to harm her. She had informed the police several times during the two-years, but they did not take her seriously. On Oct. 19, the Ministry of Justice announced a revision to strengthen the stalking punishment law after public opinion, that it would have prevented Jeon from killing her, mounted. The amendment is largely fourfold.
However, experts said the stalking punishment law should be revised further. A CBT reporter interviewed Kim Jeong-hye, an associate researcher at the Korean Women’s Development Institute, about the stalking amendment.
Q1. What are the expected effects of strengthening the Stalking Punishment Act?
First, deleting the provision “An offense unpunishable over objection” will help the investigation more actively, without the suspension of indictment depending on the intention of the victim. Offenders will be less likely to approach victims to settle or drop charges. Secondly, since part of online stalking has been added to the definition of stalking, it seems that the definition of stalking can be judged more comprehensively. In other words, stalking behavior that occurs online will also help to determine it as a stalking crime. Overall, the protection of victims will be strengthened by adding online stalking to the definition of stalking and introducing the victim’s public defender system, but there are some deficiencies, such as the definition of stalking and the content of the protective order, that need to be amended.
Q2. Are there any additional parts that have to stipulate or changes to be made except for the five stalking definitions (A-E) regulated in Korean Law?
It would be most efficient to add the words “an act equivalent to this” in the definition of stalking. Currently, it lists the requirements that it must be against the other person’s will, cause anxiety and fear, and there shouldn’t be any justifiable reason, and it is only established as a stalking act if it falls under one of these. However, there may be many kinds of stalking except for the five above. Thus, I think the word “act equivalent” should be included in the definition of stalking so that similar stalking conduct is included, not falling under one of the five ways of stalking.
Q3. What should be added to reinforce the protection of victims included in the Stalking Punishment Act?
Currently, there isn’t content prohibiting stalking other than access restrictions. Restriction orders to perpetrators at present are mainly focused on stalking approaches, so only online access restrictions and offline access restrictions can be ordered. However, I think it is possible for stalking to occur in different ways. It is therefore necessary to have some broader restriction to curb stalking in ways other than an approach. Moreover, unlike other crimes, stalking related crimes can usually continue or recur, so protective and preventative measures are needed. Normally, if a crime occurs once, the recovery process follows. Therefore, probation for the crime is granted under the assumption that the crimes won’t recur. Stalking crimes, however, can persist or recur even though investigations and trials are under way, or even after the trial is concluded. While conducting investigations or trials, it is necessary to keep up the prevention protocol regardless of the investigation and trial procedures, or whether it protects the victims or restricts the perpetrators. As I mentioned before, stalking has parts that require protection against victims, unlike other crimes.
Q4. How do you think blind spots, like marital stalking and online stalking, that is still difficult to define accurately by the Stalking Punishment Act should be resolved?
Stalking between couples is now included in the Stalking Punishment Act. If you live in a house together, it may be difficult to prevent access. In such cases, the Domestic Violence Punishment Act is applied simultaneously, and the fact that you are a couple does not mean that you are exempt from the Stalking Punishment Act. In the case of online stalking, the definition of the current law itself is very narrow so there is a problem that unwanted communication is not included except for sending messages directly to the victim. That’s why this legislative notice proposed an amendment that adds more types of online stalking. However, there are still types that are omitted due to the narrow definition of stalking, so I think it is necessary to expand the concept of stalking so that it can be judged according to individual events. In my opinion, it’s important to change it to indicate, not a way to list specific actions, and to revise it to include “actions equivalent” to this.
Kim Jeong-hye said that stalking should be taken more seriously than it is now. “Unlike other crimes, stalking negatively affects not only the victim but the people around him or her. This negative effect can be extended to people who are closely related to the victim. Currently the law only protects family members and cohabitants, but in reality, the range of affected people is very wide. Stalking could affect the victim’s coworkers, friends, lovers, or past lovers, so the range is much wider than the current law. Stalking could lead to a considerable break in vital relationships. Additionally, negative economic implication may occur if the victim has to quit their job or studies or even be forced to move to a different home or city.”
By Jeong Yeon-ju | firstname.lastname@example.org
By Kim Ye-rin | email@example.com