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The Peninsula

Public Scrutiny Around Criminal Sentencing

Published September 10, 2021
Author: Korea View

What Happened

  • Last week, the police failed to stop an ex-convict from murdering two women despite having placed him under surveillance using an ankle monitor.
  • The public response to this incident reflected growing anxiety around a series of violent crimes targeting vulnerable groups such as women and children.
  • A growing segment of the public sees the current sentencing as inadequate to deter violent criminals.

Implications: The growing public demand for harsher punishment stands at odds with both domestic and international trends. Public calls for tougher sentencing have consistently accompanied instances of violent crimes. For instance, a petition submitted to the Blue House demanding severe punishment for a man who murdered his partner gained nearly 400,000 signatures. Other high-profile crimes have re-ignited a debate on the death penalty, which prompted some presidential candidates to suggest ending the unofficial moratorium on capital punishment. While domestic and international human rights activists have called on South Korea to officially abolish the death penalty, the public response to these recent criminal cases suggests this effort may face headwinds.

Context: Despite these crimes making headlines, violent crime has not actually increased in Korea. Murders have decreased steadily in the last ten years, while the number of assaults has largely remained unchanged over the same period. One outlier to this trend is gender-based violence. The number of people who reported experiencing dating violence, or intimate partner violence (IPV) increased from 16.2% in 2016 to 19.9% in 2017. Reported rapes have also increased by almost 30% since 2010. Observers believe that broader social awareness may be encouraging victims to report cases more frequently. Here too, many commentators argue that light punishment for sexual violence fails to deter these crimes.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Sean Blanco, Marina Dickson, Yubin Huh, and Janet Hong. Picture from the flickr account of Ju Han Kim

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