New military law calls for tougher punishment for sex crimes

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, June 18 (Yonhap) -- The South Korean military pledged Tuesday to toughen the punishment for sex crimes that occur in barracks under a new criminal code that makes it easier for prosecutors to launch investigations and categorizes men as potential rape victims.

The latest move is part of the military's efforts to more strongly deter sexual violence after a female cadet of the nation's elite Army academy was assaulted by her senior during a campus festival last month.

While military prosecutors had been limited in punishing sex offenders in uniform without a victim's complaint, the new law allows authorities to launch investigations into sex crimes involving soldiers without requiring a victim's consent.

Victims of sex assaults and harassment in barracks have faced difficulties in reporting cases involving fellow members and senior officers over fear that it could ruin their military career, while some have reportedly come under pressure not to go public.

The new law also amended a criminal code that only defined women as a subject of rape to include men as well, in consideration of a growing number of male victims of sexual harassment.

Among 487 victims of sexual offenses that occurred in barracks in 2010 and 2011, 135, or 27.7 percent, were males, according to a defense ministry report.

"We hope the new law helps reduce sex offenses among soldiers," said Hong Chang-shik, a defense ministry official in charge of legal affairs. "We are also increasing sex crime prevention programs and preparing measures to protect victims."

The sexual abuse case involving cadets drew much media attention because it was the first time such a case has taken place on campus, or been made public, since women were admitted to the elite military academy in Seoul in 1998.

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