Send to

[Editorial] Dating violence

Law should be revised to protect victims of dating abuse like those of domestic violence

May 14, 2024 - 05:30 By Korea Herald

A gruesome murder of a young woman by her boyfriend shocked the nation last week. The assailant, a medical student in his 20s, stabbed her multiple times on the rooftop of a building in Seoul. In March, another man named Kim Re-ah in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province, murdered his girlfriend after she expressed her wish to break up with him, and hurt her mother as well. In Incheon, a man in his 30s who was under a restraining order after physically attacking and stalking his ex-girlfriend killed her in July last year.

The number of suspects arrested for dating violence jumped 55.7 percent from 8,951 in 2020 to 13,939 last year, according to police statistics. The types of abuse range from physical attacks and confinement to blackmail, sexual violence, and many led to murder. Korea Women's Hot-Line, a non-profit women's rights activist group, said that at least 138 women were murdered last year by men they were in an intimate relationship with. However, there are barely any legal safeguards to protect victims of abuse who are members of an unmarried couple. Unlike domestic violence, child abuse or stalking, there are no restraining orders or regulations to separate the perpetrators from the victims of dating violence.

Physical assaults and blackmail are punishable as criminal offenses, but because there is no law on dating abuse, there are no legal grounds for protection or post-violence care for the victims. Since physical assaults and blackmail cannot be prosecuted if the victim expresses a wish to not have the offender penalized, many perpetrators of dating abuse go unpunished.

Since a murder case of a woman by her boyfriend drew media attention in 2015, 10 bills have been proposed to criminalize dating abuse and protect the victims, but none have been passed. Lawmakers argued over whether there is a need for separate legislation on dating abuse and how to define dating violence. The bills were scrapped as the 19th and 20th National Assembly term expired, and the ones proposed in the 21st National Assembly are also set to be discarded.

Several countries have specified dating abuse as a serious crime in their laws to protect the victims and penalize the offenders. How they have done it may serve as a reference for South Korean legislators. Having enacted the Violence Against Women Act as a federal law in 1994, the US has expanded the scope of victim protection to victims of domestic, sexual, dating violence and stalking. The UK in 2012 broadened the definition of domestic violence to include that between intimate partners, ex-partners, ex-spouses and people with intention to marry each other. Japan expanded the application of its law on the prevention of spousal violence in 2013 from spouses, ex-spouses and people in a common-law marriage to people “in a relationship sharing a common living space.”

Whether lawmakers craft separate legislation on dating abuse or incorporate it within the Act on Prevention of Domestic Violence and Protection of Victims or the Act on Prevention of Stalking and Protection of Victims, they should make efforts to promptly reach a conclusion. Experts have said that revising the law to include dating abuse in the concept of domestic violence would be effective.

Whereas physical assault and blackmail are non-prosecutable if the victim doesn’t want prosecution, the new legislation should include no such clause for perpetrators of dating abuse. One of the main objectives of the criminal law is deterrence. By imposing a penalty on those who commit offenses, the offenders and other individuals are discouraged from criminal behavior. Use of violence against or stalking of women which can lead to murder must be punished with no exception in order to prevent further violence and harassment that cause extreme fear.