Supreme Court sentencing commission recommends maximum of 29 years for sex crimes akin to Nth Room incident

Posted on : 2020-09-16 18:45 KST Modified on : 2020-09-16 18:45 KST
Strict recommendations seen as reflection of social backlash over lax punishments of sex crimes
The South Korean Supreme Court’s Sentencing Commission. (provided by the Supreme Court)
The South Korean Supreme Court’s Sentencing Commission. (provided by the Supreme Court)

The Supreme Court’s Sentencing Commission recommended a maximum sentence of 29 years and three months in jail for those convicted of systematically producing pornographic material featuring children and/or adolescents two or more times. The strict sentencing standard comes as a reflection of criticism over the judiciary’s slap-on-the-wrist punishments in the Telegram “Nth Room” and Welcome to Video cases -- which many saw as “condoning” sex crimes -- and the National Assembly’s passage of an amendment to the Act on the Protection of Children and Youth Against Sex Offenses last May to apply stiffer punishments.

On Sept. 15, the Sentencing Commission released a plan for sentencing standards in cases of “digital sex crimes.” They include a standard prison sentence of five to nine years for the crime of producing materials sexually exploitive of children and adolescents. Additionally, a number of “special aggravating factors” were specified to address issues such as those found in the Nth Room case. They include cases of multiple people committing crimes in a systematic manner with different prescribed roles, actively planning and directing criminal acts, distributing video footage online, having a prior record involving prostitution and sex crimes, and exhibiting malicious motives such as retaliation or hatred toward a victim, as well as cases in which the damage is exacerbated by the victim committing suicide, suffering a breakdown to their family, or withdrawing from studies as a result of the material’s production.

A single special aggravating factor would result in an increase of seven to 13 years in the sentence; in cases where recidivism is recognized with the commission of the same crime two or more times, sentences ranging from 10 years and 10 months to a maximum of 29 years and three months may be given.

Sentences of up to 27 years will also be possible for cases of selling material sexually exploitive of children and adolescents on multiple occasions for purposes of profit. Son Jong-woo, who managed the world’s largest child pornography website Welcome to Video, previously served an 18-month prison sentence, but application of the new sentencing standards would enable a sentence of up to 27 years in prison on charges of selling for profit alone, and over 30 years if distribution charges are also factored in. The recommendation stated that sentences of up to 18 years in prison would be possible in habitual cases involving the secret filming of people’s bodies and distributing the footage on multiple occasions for profit. The standard sentence for possession of illegally filmed footage is six months to one year. In cases of intimidation and coercion using filmed footage, the recommended sentences would be substantially increased when those convicted are considered habitual offenders due to the severe nature of the crime: from three to nine years in prison in cases of intimidation, and from seven years and six months to a maximum of 19 years in cases of coercion. Distribution of deep fakes for profit would be punishable with a standard sentence of 12 to 30 months, and a maximum of nine years in cases of habitual offences.

Victim-centered approach in sentencing guidelines

The Sentencing Commission also reflected a “victim-centered” approach in its sentencing guidelines. Criminal deposits -- previously regarded as examples of a defendant working toward a settlement irrespective of the victim’s intention – as well as any “sincere efforts to restore damages” in the process -- are no longer considered mitigating factors in sentencing. Instead, special leniency factors are only recognized in cases of substantive measures such as deleting/destroying sexually exploitative material prior to distribution or voluntarily recovering material that has been distributed already. While sentences are often substantially reduced in cases where the victim does not wish to see the perpetrator punished -- also regarded as a special leniency factor -- such cases are categorized as “general leniency factors” in the case of digital sex crimes, which prevents sentences from being drastically reduced. The Sentencing Commission explained, “Due to the nature of digital devices and the online environment, the method of perpetrating [digital sex crimes] are very diverse and negative effects spread rapidly, which makes it difficult to restore those damages.”

“We have established objective and rigorous sentencing standards due to the rising frequency of crimes as the use of digital media has become ubiquitous,” the commission said.

The new sentencing standards are to face final approval by a plenary session of the Sentencing Commission on Dec. 7, and will go into effect for indictments that occur after their implementation. Cho Ju-bin and other defendants currently on trial for the production and distribution of illicit pornography according to the Act on the Protection of Children and Youth Against Sex Offenses in connection with the Telegram “Doctor’s Room” case have already been indicted, which means that the new sentencing guidelines would not apply to them as a rule. But with a Supreme Court precedent concluding that it is “not in violation of the law to consult sentencing standards that are disadvantageous to a defendant in cases that involve indictments before those standards entered effect,” a judge would be allowed to “consult” the new guidelines when determining their sentence.

“There have been cases of newly established sentencing guidelines being cultured in sentencing for cases involving previous indictments, which means that [the new guidelines] could have an impact on sentencing in the trial of Cho Ju-bin et al.,” a Supreme Court official said.

Shin Jin-hee, an attorney representing victims in the Doctor’s Room case, said, “Sentences have been increasing due to reflection and consideration [of excessively lenient sentences in the past].”

“While the new sentencing guidelines are not being applied [in this case], we’re expecting a heavy sentence to be passed down in the lower courts,” Shin predicted.

By Jang Pil-su and Joh Yun-yeong, staff reporters

Please direct comments or questions to []

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles