Now this is the era when 15 million people are raising pets. Although pet households are heading toward being one-third of all households, critics point out that the bill that regulates pets is still outdated. Animal abuse cases have become increasingly frequent at a time when it is necessary to increase the level of investigation expertise and punishment for animal abuse crimes. Horrible animal abuse incidents are taking place near us, such as throwing dogs in the air, tying dogs to passenger cars, and damaging street cats' limbs.
Current status of animal abuse in Korea
Recently, as the interest in respect for life has increased, the public's perception of animal welfare has increased significantly. However, animal abuse is becoming more cruel day by day. In particular, in the "Animal Version Nth Room'' incident, which has been going on from 2021 to this year, participants in the Kakao Talk Open Chat Room named "Gore Specialized Room" shared with the community how to capture animals to abuse and harm live animals. Some of the perpetrators of the case have been punished, but the community simply transferred to another location, and an investigation is still underway to find the culprit. In addition, the "Jadu Incident," one of the representative cat abuse cases in 2019, is an incident in which a cat named Jadu was abused on apromenade in front of a restaurant run by the victim on Gyeongui Sun Forest Road in Mapo-gu, Seoul. The abuser grabbed the cat's tail and hit it on the ground several times, stepped on its head and it died. According to data submitted by Rep. Ha Eunah of the People Power Party from the Ministry of Justice, the number of reports of violations of the Animal Protection Act from 2010 to 2020 is on the rise every year. The number of reports increased from 79 in 2010 and 108 in 2011 to 1,079 in 2019 and 1,125 in 2020.1) As such, the pattern of animal abuse crimes is becoming increasingly brutal, and the channels for abuse photos and videos are also diversifying. The revision of the Animal Protection Act, which has always been pushed out of priority because it is not an urgent issue so far, seems to have had a negative impact.
In Korea, the Animal Protection Act was first enacted in 1991, but most of the provisions of the law enacted in consideration of the social atmosphere at the time were only declarative. Since then, the Animal Protection Act has been revised with the efforts of the government and animal protection organizations, and the revised Animal Protection Act has been in effect since January 27, 2008. According to the Animal Protection Act, which was strengthened in February 2021, the punishment for abuse that leads to the death of animals was strengthened from imprisonment forup to two years or a fine of up to 20 million won to imprisonment for up to three years or a fine of up to 30 million won. However, while the number of violations of the Animal Protection Acthas increased significantly, 1,741 out of 3,398 people who were reported during the five years from 2016 to 2020 were not prosecuted due to insufficient evidence. 2) This is 51.2%, more than half, showing that it is difficult to get crimes against animals to a formal trial. The perpetrator of the aforementioned "Jadu Incident" was the first person in more than 30 years after the enactment of the Animal Protection Act in 2019 to be sentenced to prison for violating the law. However, he was sentenced to only six months in prison, which is significantly lower than the strengthened punishment. The sentence is weaker than the cruelty of the crime, but the fact that it is the first sentence of imprisonment showed that our society no longer treats animal cruelty lightly.
Animal rights protection, linked to human rights protection
Animal abuse, which has recently spread online, has a different pattern from before in terms of crime motivation and criminal behavior. The motives for animal abuse in the traditional sense include the abuser's hot-tempered nature, a lack of empathy, and stress relief. However, in the case of online animal abuse that has occurre drecently, abusers tend to express their arguments or thoughts through abuse to elicit responses from others. Online animal abuse has a serious emotional impact on an unspecified number of people through information and communication networks, and animal abusers get satisfaction from the psychological pressure on those watching it. They watch the public's reactions with interest, actively respond through comments or additional posts, and show arrogance, emphasizing that they will not be arrested. Lee Sangkyung, a profiler of the Department of Scientific Investigation at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, said in response, "Online animal abusers are trying to gain fame within the group by strengthening their bonds with people of the same personality. On the other hand, they try to express hostility, tease, or harass hostile groups."3) Analysts say that the more people know about abuse in a situation where anonymity is allowed, the higher their satisfaction increases, so they advertise their crimes.
As such, animal groups argue that online animal abuse is not only a crime against animals but also a crime against humans, so it is urgent to come up with counter measures. It's because animal abuse is likely to develop into a crime against humans in the future. According to a study by Boston's Northeastern Research University, 46% of serial killers have experience in animal abuse and practiced murder of animals.4) It is said that animal abuse is often committed first before secondary abuse is performed on humans. It was found that Yoo Youngchul and Kang Hosoon, Korea's famous serial murderers, also had experience of animal abuse before murdering. Kwak Geumjoo, a professor of psychology at Seoul National University, said, "Animal abuse crimes are likely to occur repeatedly once they start. At some point, they can commit a crime against the socially disadvantaged while bullying animals that are weaker than them."5) It seems that it is only a matter of time before animal cruelty by animal abusers leads to abuse of the socially disadvantaged. In order to prevent the occurrence of secondary crimes, improvement of policiesfor animal protection is required as soon as possible.
The Korean parliament is also aware of this and is engaged in various legislative activities. As the revision of the Animal Protection Act so far had been limited to partial revisions, an entire amendment to it passed the National Assembly in December 2021 and is pending at the Legislation and Judiciary Committee. The entire amendment to the Animal Protection Act includes reinforcing owner obligations for pets, establishing grounds for requesting specialized tests to determine whether they are abused, and ordering classes or completing treatment programs to prevent recurrence when convicted. If the court convicts someone of animal abuse, it may impose a ban on owning animals for up to five years. Even before the conviction is confirmed, if it is judged that the abused animals cannot be properly protected, a provisional injunction against ownership can be imposed. In 2021, as a result of a full investigation of 33 judgments of courts nationwide on violations of Article 8 of the Animal Protection Act, as many as 16 cases involved the owner as the perpetrator.6) Therefore, if the relevant amendment is passed, it is expected that the abused animals will not be returned to the abuser through the prohibition of ownership or provisional disposition. In addition, a revision to the Civil Act, which includes the clause "An animal is not an object," is also set to be discussed in the National Assembly. Korea still defines animals as objects and punishes animal abuse cases as property damage. It is pointed out that this is why the legal system does not enforce sufficient punishment for animals or compensation for animal harm. Therefore, the revision of the Civil Act is expected to contribute to strengthening the level of punishment and expanding the scope of social coexistence to respect life more.
Preparing future measures
Despite various legislative activities, there are still limitations in preventing animal abuse. Since the "Animal Version of Nth Room" incident, voices have grown to prevent the distribution of illegally taken photos or videos of animal abuse. According to a forum co-hosted by Justice Party lawmaker Lee Eunjoo and the Animal Freedom Solidarity in July 2021, the Animal Protection Monitor cited non-cooperation of investigative agencies as a difficulty in responding to animalcrime cases. On the other hand, the police replied, "When dispatched to the site, we need to ask for cooperation from the animal protection monitor, but it does not go smoothly."7) Both the animal protection monitor and the police answered that cooperation was not smooth. It shows that it is necessary to clarify the authority, responsibility, and role of each subject in the event of animal abuse. Finally, unlike Korea, the EU and the United States impose imprisonment for animal abuse. The sentencing may vary greatly depending on the degree of understanding and perception of animal welfare and animal rights by the Korean court, and the actual sentencing varies greatly. Considering this, it seems that there is a high need to establish sentencing standards for animal abuse crimes.
Based on the limitations, in order to prevent crimes against animals in Korea, it is first necessary to establish a cooperative system between local government departments dedicated to animal abuse and animal protection monitors and police. Currently, if an animal is injured or the owner of the animal is reported as unknown due to abuse, the police officer must be dispatched with ananimal protection officer. This is because the police are in charge of crime prevention and investigation, but they do not have the authority to quarantine the abused animals. Under the Animal Protection Act, the head of the relevant local government is responsible for animal rescueor protective measures. Therefore, an "Animal Special Judicial Police System" was introduced to address this inconvenience. The special judicial police officeris a public official who has been granted not only the right to accuse but also the right to investigate by the head of the National Police Agency. Their activities have expanded because animal protection monitors can also become special judicial police officers. However, the system was introduced in November 2018 and implemented in earnest in early 2019, so the effect remains insignificant as of now. Inaddition, the number of cases announced by the police for prosecution for violating the Animal Protection Act has nearly quadrupled in four years, while the number of dedicated personnel remains remarkably insufficient. It is necessary to establish a smooth cooperation system between animal protection monitors and police by expanding the workforce of special judicial police officers.
In order to prevent animal abuse, it is also an important task to establish an independent sentencing standard for crimes against animals. Developed countries abroad are strictly punishing animal cruelty. In the case of the perpetrator of the "Jadu Incident," he can be sentenced to prison for up to 10 years if overseas regulations are applied. The U.S. Congress unanimously passed the "PACT (Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture) bill," which strengthens the punishment of animal abusers by recognizing it as a felony, following the House of Representatives. The bill, which stipulates violation of state-to-state animal abuse management laws as a serious federal crime, requires convicted persons to be sentenced to up to seven years in prison or fined. Furthermore, the FBI classifies animal abuse as a major crime and intensively investigates it. In addition, in the case of Germany, up to three years in prison can be sentenced for animal abuse, and animal ownership will be completely prohibited in the future if punished for animal murder. In Korea, there seems to be a need to increase the level of punishment for animal abuse as well as expand the scope of punishment. In the reality of treating animals as objects, it is not easy to properly punish animal abuse. It seems that the revision of the Civil Act should be sped up and new sentencing standards for abuse should be established.
It starts with being aware of the seriousness
People call them "pets," but animals are still considered as "goods" equivalent to objects under the Animal Protection Act in Korea. Socially, awareness of animal rights has increased, but procedural difficulties will continue until increased awareness is reflected in legislation. Reflecting the public's awareness of the problem, if policy and legislative alternatives to strengthen the ability to respond to animal abuse are prepared as soon as possible, it will also prevent the terrible side effects of animal crimes from spreading to human crimes.
1) Choi Seoyun, "Animal Protection Organization Says, "Basic Punishment for Animal Abuse Should Be Imprisonment and Should Prohibit Abusers from Owning Animals."", News1, June 15, 2021
2) Kim Munhui, "Damage to Abandoned Animals Is Increasing Day by Day despite Strengthening Punishment for Animal Abuse", Financial News, June 27, 2021
3) Lee Yeonghwan, "The Videos of Animal Cruelty, Emotional Crimes against Humans", NEWSIS, Feburary 25, 2022
4) Lee Changu, "Street Cats Being Killed One after Another, We Need to Establish Severe Punishment for Animal Cruelty", The Kyongnamdomin Ilbo, July 29, 2020
5) See Footnote 4
6) Kim Haesol, "To Relieve Stress, for Fun... Animals Dying from Loose Punishment [Animal Abuse,Cruel Death Record]", Financial News, February 23, 2022
7) Lee Yuntae, "The Role and Responsibility of Organizations Related to Animal Abuse Cases Must Be Clarified", Munhua Journal, July 2, 2021