Korea: Teenage sex crimes tripled in 8 years

April 14, 2007

A rising number of sex crimes among teenagers is becoming a serious problem in Korea. The number of reported sex crimes including rape, indecent assault, and attempted rape more than tripled in eight years, from 567 cases in 1999 to 1,810 cases last year. The trend is in contrast with the US and Japan where teenage sex crimes are decreasing.

The wave of sex crimes seems to reflect a desensitivity to the act among teenagers. Crimes occur both in and out of school, including some cases in which students pimp out female classmates and collect the money.

Korean teens in sexual assault

An analysis by the Chosun Ilbo of recent sex crimes among teenagers shows that the crimes often follow a similar pattern. The chain begins with Internet sex chats or sexual conduct. Then the attacker threatens to publicize the victim's indiscretions, which leads to one-on-one sexual assault. That is followed by repeated threats, then sexual assault in groups.

A cruel and concentrated attack on a female student followed just this process. "A," a 16-year-old high school student from Gwangju, met "B," a female junior high student, in an Internet chat room. After conversing online, A threatened that he would reveal the contents of their chats and forced B to have sex with him in a school restroom. A later repeated his threats and raped B 11 more times, sometimes with his friends.

Rapes often involve groups

Another aspect of teenage sex crimes in Korea is that they frequently happen in groups. Some 50 percent of teenage rape cases occurred in groups, compared to 30 percent for adults. Experts say that this tendency is higher in Korea than in other countries.

"The strong group culture among Korean teenagers makes it easier to get involved in group crimes," said Professor Cho Ah-mie from the Youth Education and Leadership Department of Myongji University. "Committing crimes together reduces individual feelings of responsibility and morality, which makes it easier to participate in sex assaults without feeling so bad."

Teenage sex offenders also tend to be more violent than adult sex offenders. According to a study by the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center, 98 teenage sex offenders, or 45.6 percent, committed aggravated rapes, gang rapes or combined burglaries and rapes in groups. For adults, the number of such criminals was 616, or 31.7 percent.

Younger sex offenders

Meanwhile, the average age of sex offenders is decreasing. The number of sex crimes committed by teenagers younger than 14 more than tripled from 14 cases three years ago to 42 in 2006. During that same period, the number of sex crimes conducted by 14-year-olds more than doubled. In contrast, sex crimes committed by 19-year-old college freshmen during that period declined by 3.6 percent. Of all the teenagers convicted of sex crimes last year, 284 were third-year junior high school students while 240 were college freshmen.

Criminals don't feel guilty

Another disturbing aspect about Korea's teenage sex offenders is that they are feeling less guilty about their crimes. The National Police Agency and a team from Kyonggi University headed by Professor Lee Soo-jung conducted a study on six junior high sex offenders involved in a gang rape. The offenders scored 55 points on a test that measures anti-social feelings, where anything more than 50 points is considered highly dangerous. And when it came to how guilty the offenders felt about their crimes, their scores were just 37 to 47 points.

Won Hye-wook, a law professor at Inha University and a former researcher at the Korean Institute of Criminal Justice Policy, blamed the Internet. Teenage sex offenders feel less guilty about their crimes because they frequently visit pornographic websites, he said.

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2005 Asian Sex Gazette.
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