Disabled sexual abuse victims struggle in Korea

Disabled sexual abuse victims struggle in Korea
Lee Hee-jeong, head of a therapy center for female victims of sexual abuse with disabilities in Seoul.

In 2011, South Korea announced a new bill that would impose tougher sentences on people who sexually abuse the disabled, after "Dogani" - a popular film which dramatized a real-life case of sexual abuse against hearing-impaired schoolchildren - sparked public outrage.

More than 4 million tickets to the film were sold following its release in September that year, and the bill, dubbed the "Dogani Bill," was passed at the National Assembly just a month after.

The new act included an abolishment of the statute of limitations for sex crimes against the disabled and children.

More than two years have passed since the release of "Dogani," but sexual abuse victims with disabilities still suffer in the dark, with many of their cases unreported to the police. Among the victims, the most vulnerable are the more than 70 per cent who have intellectual disabilities.

Only 26 per cent of them report their cases, according to the Seoul Metropolitan Government, partly because of their lack of understanding of the situation.

"The human rights of disabled victims of sexual violence are still being violated," said Cho Hyun-ok of the Women and Family Policy Affairs Office of the Seoul government.

Last month, the Seoul government opened its fourth therapy centre specifically for disabled women who have been sexually abused. Last year, the first three centers handled 3,382 cases, and the majority of their clients had developmental disabilities.

"The number of cases is large considering the centers only offer programs for female victims with disabilities," the city officials said in a statement.

Lee Hee-jeong, who heads one of these counseling centers, has been working in the field for some five years. Her job is to speak to the clients in their therapy sessions, as well as to accompany them when they attend trials. Lawsuits can be tedious and stressful for both Lee and her clients. It usually takes one to three years to hear the final ruling.

"Many times I got the impression that the judiciary doesn't really understand the special condition of the developmentally disabled victims," Lee said.

"One time, we submitted our client's school report cards, to prove that she is developmentally disabled. She attended a special-education school for the disabled, and we thought the fact that she went to such a school could be proof. But when the judge read what her teacher wrote on the report card, which said she is 'well behaved and clever in school,' he concluded that the victim had sufficient ability to judge the situation and say no to the abuser. You can't jump to that conclusion by reading a report card issued by a special-education school."

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