Original article in Korean is at this link.
In December, Lee, a male middle school student who has a mental disability, suffered a humiliating episode of sexual molestation by friends in his class. Kim and two other boys forcibly took out his genitals and felt them in the classroom. They used a cellphone to make a video of the incident.
Other students who saw the incident turned them in, and the school submitted them to its school violence committee. However, the school issued a punishment of simply deleting the video and doing five days of in-school service.
Lee, a male fourth-grade elementary school student in Chungcheongnam-do, groped the breasts and buttocks of a female sixth-grade student with a mental disability. When caught his punishment was nothing more than to keep away from her.
On September 16, Grand National Party Representative Bae Eun-hui, a member of the National Assembly’s committee on education, science, and technology, released statistics collected from 16 municipal and provincial offices of education showing that “most students who sexually molest mentally handicapped students receive merely a slap on the wrist.”
The school has the light penalties of “making an apology”, “not contacting the other student”, “in-school service”, and “community service” and the serious penalties of “class transfer”, “special education”, “suspension”, and “school transfer or expulsion”.
According to Rep. Bae, of the 52 students who sexually molested a mentally handicapped student in 2009, 15 (29%) received the lightest possible penalty of making an apology and 36 (69%) in total received a light penalty. In 2010, also, 103 out of 150 (69%) received a light penalty.
In cases of sexual molestation of students who were not disabled, penalties were severe. Of 180 students who did so in 2009, 20% (36) received the most severe penalties of school transfer and expulsion, and overall 74% (132) received serious penalties. In 2010, also, 174, over half of the total of 319, received serious penalties.
The difference in the punishments is due to mentally disabled students being unable to clearly describe what they have suffered and their victimizers being able to argue back. Another major cause is that parents of the victims are unable to blindly demand heavy punishments.
Hong Hui-seon, head of a group of parents with children in Seoul-area special schools (서울지역 특수학교 학부모회), said that “parents of children with mental disabilities believe it to be lucky when our children are able to be in the same classroom with normal children, so it’s easy for us to make compromises… They have the same rights as normal children.”
However, education authorities have no effective policies in place. An official with Seoul Office of Education (서울시교육청) said that “we have to work hard to protect the rights of mentally disabled students but when the victim and parents don’t file a request there is nothing for us to do.”
Rep. Bae said that “education authorities need to warn disabled students and strictly investigate when an incident occurs… They also need to have expert consultation for victims.”