3/12/2007

Rape Sentences Egregiously Low




This column appears in the Korea Times every Wednesday.


Rape Sentences Egregiously Low

Dear Professor Sean Hayes: I was very surprised when the American soldier convicted of raping a 67 year old woman only received 4 years in jail. I know in my home, Vancouver, anyone convicted of rape will receive a substantially higher sentence. Did the convicted receive a short sentence because of the influence of the United States military or because of low sentences for rapists in Korea? Surprised Canadian.

Dear Surprised Canadian: The United States military played no role in the low sentence given to the American private. The sentence received was even longer than the normal rape sentence in Korea. The reason, according to the Court, was that the victim was extremely traumatized by the rape and assault.

Private Geronimo Ramirez, 23, in mid January, raped a 67 year women as she was returning from an early morning cleaning job. Ramirez violently assaulted and raped the woman three times- once between cars, once in an alleyway, and once inside a building. He was caught when police responded to the victims screams. The crime occurred in HongDae. The woman had severe facial injuries and was severely traumatized by the rape. She is still undergoing treatment for her trauma.

The sentence is as egregious as the acts committed by Ramirez. In the U.S. federal courts, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, the average sentence for rape is 16 years and a majority of the sentence must be served. Since, Ramirez also severely injured the victim it is likely that an aggravated sentence would have been imposed.

In Korea, the average sentence is approximately three years and many cases where the victim settles with the assailant the sentence can be much lower.

In Korea, violent crimes, white collar crimes, and many crimes against property receive much shorter jail sentences than in the U.S. and much of the civilized world. Many citizens and even judges and prosecutors are upset over the low sentences and hope that something can be done. The solution is to strictly enforce mandatory minimum sentences or strictly enforce sentencing guidelines with judges required to explain why they departed from the minimum recommended sentence.

A majority of judges are opposed to mandatory minimum sentences and mandatory sentencing guidelines. Most major legal reforms are proposed by the judicial system under the guidance of the Supreme Court and enacted by the National Assembly- this needed change will not be proposed by the judicial system anytime soon. Accordingly, the people, NGOs, and professors need to push for this change. Hopefully, we will all the courage to fight for something that may not be directly affecting our lives.

American attorney Sean Hayes is a Professor of Law at Kookmin University and a Researcher for the Constitutional Court.

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SeanHayes@ipglegal.com