"Woman shouldn't be out walking at night.", "Woman should be dressed properly.” You may remember hearing some words like these. Even though you knew these aren’t right, you often look back when you walk on the street at night and look into a mirror checking you are dressed properly in order to avoid being in danger. The government has recently proposed the bill, Women’s Violence Prevention Act to address the issue of crimes against women, merely due to gender. Let's burrow into the new law, which is now under scrutiny from various people in society since its proposal.
Women in danger
Women have always been considered as weak beings in society. As a result, women have always become insensitive to both physical and non-physical violence. Violence against women infringes women’s physical and mental well-being and the right to be safe from violence based on gender. Types of violence that women experience include domestic violence, sexual violence, prostitution, sexual harassment, acts of continued harassment, forced acts of intimate relationships, cyberbullying and unsolicited use of personal information. According to Korea Women’s Hot Line’s human rights and culture activist, at least there were 2,000 victims, including the acquaintance of them, who were killed or have been faced the danger of being killed by male partners, who were their spouse or lover from 2009 to 2018. In other words at least 3.5 days, one woman is killed by intimate man by the violence. Given these figures, the risk to women has always been serious. And what’s more serious is that, most of the dating abuse that people have considered to be a problem between a couple or domestic violence which can be considered as one family’s problems were a female violence committed by men.
Women are no longer hidden in the shadows and their stories are coming up to the surface. Growing support for these victims has soared, especially after the 2018 ‘#Me Too movement’. Nevertheless, women still secretly fear they could always become victims, for the root of the problem has yet to be resolved. With the need to address the problem and growing sympathy for women's safety, the government proposed the Women's Violence Prevention Act. Framework for the Prevention of Violence against Women is a statement that says government is responsible for preventing violence against women and protecting victims. The bill was passed at National Assembly on December 7, 2018 and went into effect on December 25, 2019. When the bill was first proposed last year by Jung Chounsook, it defined violence against women as being related to sex crimes, but the letter of women was added. Some politicians opposed the idea, arguing that it might entice more gender conflict in mind. As a result, the definition of violence against women removed the notion of sex crimes and was changed to violence against women.
The need for the new Law
Some people have stated that the Women's Violence Prevention Act is nothing more than an institutionalization of the ‘#Me Too movement’. However, the Act is aimed at preventing all types of violence against women including date violence, stalking, and illegal photo-shootings. The Act clearly stipulates that it is the government’s responsibility to undertake measures that prevent violence from happening and to support victims. It also stipulates comprehensive and systematic implementation of the Gender Violence Prevention policy. The Act on the Prevention of Violence against Women Act is expected to serve as the legal basis for the government to establish and publicize statistics on violence against women, which can work as the first basic form of legislation against gender violence. The government will conduct a national survey every three years on sexual violence, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and prostitution, as well as on new forms of violence such as date and digital abuse. In addition, the national government and local governments now have more authority and responsibility to prevent secondary damage, which was not addressed in the existing Special Act on the Punishment of Sexual Crimes. According to the new bill, collateral damage suffered by victims include post-mortem damage, bullying, assault, abusive language, mental and physical damage, and personal repercussions suffered as a result of unfair personnel management. In other words, the bill protects women from violence and prevents secondary damage.
The implication of enactment of Women’s Violence Prevention Act is that first, it designates the damage support as a right for female victims. Second, it clarifies the duty of government and local body in order for the secondary damage. And for the last, it found a committee for Women’s Violence Prevention in the central government and in local government to arrange an organization for the effective push ahead of the policies. Shim Younggu SBS reporter introduced results of 100 cases of first trial sentencing from January 1, 2014 to July 31, 2019. It reveals the gap of gender and motive of the victim of domestic violence in the sentencing. Also it shows that only 0 among 34 cases was acknowledged as a self-defense for female victim which means that it is very hard for women to have been conceded a right of resistance.1) With these research findings, it is clear that the foundation of Women’s Violence Prevention Act should be enacted and be reinforced. As this act has been gained lots of interests, it also feed fire on the other part too. Even though’ #Me too movement’ had gained lots of attention and had solved many gender problems in society, there were still some problems that weren’t fully solved yet. However, with this new bill, which had brought domestic violence and violence against women up to the surface. Thus, there are perspectives that some cases of violence should be viewed as a femicide.
Opposition to the new act
Along with support for the Women's Violence Prevention Act, there is also the voice of opposition and worry. Some people point out that the problem is the background why it is created. They claim the Act is a reverse discrimination because it presumes that all assailants are male and all victims are female. The Reliable Ministry of Government Legislation National Law Information Center issued a comment that violence against women and the increased numbers of female victims has necessitated the Act. It also stated that there is a high rate of female victims from heinous crimes. The Center made these announcements to validate the law and to show the public the seriousness of crimes against females. However, people who oppose the Act focus on overall victim rate. These people use statistics of gender rate in all types of crimes including arson and assault, and the statistics shows that there were more male victims in all crimes except ‘sex’ crimes. Looking into the murder crime as an example, the percentages of victims were 56% males and 44% females according to analysis of Supreme Prosecutors’ Office. In addition, looking at deaths as a result of murder crime, rates were 49% males and 51% females (Korean National Police Agency.2) In other words, there is not much gender difference among murder crime victims. This difference that is slight is not only applied to murder crime but also to other heinous crimes except sex crime. Citing these statistics, some people strongly oppose the legitimacy of the Act insisting that this is unfair and unjust. At the same time, it is also considered as a reverse discrimination because it does not have any just reason to be implemented and only protects female while it does not protect male who is biologically not a female.
Aside from its background, Women's Violence Prevention Act itself has loopholes in it. Though it seems it contains contents in detail, it is lack of details when it comes to enforcements in real. Protection of victims' information is very important in the process of investigation, but the Women's Violence Prevention Act merely stipulates the ‘duty’ to come up with a plan for protection of victims’ information, not a direct notice for protection. At least important details of victim information protection need to be directly stipulated in the law. The secondary damage associated with women's violence is serious, and this suggests the need for a practical penalty clause. However, the Women's Violence Prevention Act provides only abstract details on setting up measures and an education to prevent secondary damage. In the event of committing such secondary damage, almost no provision for punishment or remedy is written. Professor Chung Namchul in Division of Law said, “The Women's Violence Prevention Act has detailed regulations regarding support and prevention for women's violence. However, regulations regarding victims’ information protection and prevention of secondary damage are very insufficient. Therefore, it is needed to come up with practical measures reviewing and considering new act’s relationship with other laws to protect the victims from an information leakage and from a secondary damage.” It is newly created act, and not viewed as a perfect act. As professor Chung pointed out, this new Act needs some improvements. It is expected to work successfully like its purpose when proper improvements are made.
The way we need to take
On December 28, a large group gathered at Marronnier Park to rally against “Femicide”. This protest shows that society still needs to work toward true equality for all human beings. Changes may not come drastically, but movement of change has started. To restore women’s rights and ensure that they are same as male’s, deeper consideration and discussion of the new Act and its meaning is needed rather than unconditional agreement or disagreement. A unified effort to establish true new policy on human rights in Korea is the first step to establish desirable and useful policy. Moreover, this collective effort will contribute to a more mature, just, and fair society.
1) Shim Okyeon, “At least 1.8 days, Every One Woman Victim Outbreaks.”, Oh my news, December 11, 2019
2) Shim Seohyeon, “Are Females in More Danger? ...The Real Statistics”, Joongang Daily, May 28, 2016
Kwak Lee Shinyoung / Woman Section Editor
Lee Hwang Hayoung / Woman Section Editor