What are crimes with abnormal motives, which are often dealt with in the news? The media previously referred to them as “Don’t-Ask-Why(Mudjima) Crime” because the crimes are based on unusual motivations. However, beginning in January 2022, the police began defining them as “Crimes with Abnormal Motives.” Police got rid of the term “Mudjima (Don’t-Ask-Why)” because the term can cause a misunderstanding that a crime was committed without a motivation. Recently, it feels like the number of crimes with abnormal motives is increasing. According to Lee Soo Jung, a Kyonggi University professor in the department of criminal psychology, Korea is a safe country with a murder crime rate of two per 100,000 people. Although the overall murder crime rate has not increased compared to before, the reality is that it feels like the number of lives lost has increased due to the increased frequency of media reporting. Unlike in the past, it is believed that stimulating videos of incidents related to crimes with abnormal motives began to be spread indiscriminately, thus becoming a trigger for murder. Some believe that the number of imitated and modified crimes is increasing due to videos of the Sillim Station crime being spread recklessly through the internet. After the Sillim Station stabbing incident occurred, hot news stories related to crimes with abnormal motives continue to arise, such as the mugshot of Choi Yoon Jong, the criminal of sexual assault and murder at Sillim-dong, being released for the second time in South Korea. While brutal and grotesque murders occur continuously, some people feel that the laws protect suspects. People started to consider that the laws for the protection of suspects’ right are excessive, so people began to protect themselves by buying self-defense products. Pharos is going to address the crimes with abnormal motives which have occurred recently, as well as summarize the perspectives of the government and citizens regarding this crime.
South Korea’s Crimes with Abnormal Motives in 2023
-The Stabbing Incident at Sillim Station (Case of Jo Sun)-
Explanation of the Incident: On 21 July, at around 2:07 p.m., a stabbing occurred in Sillim-dong, Gwanak-gu, Seoul. Four casualties, one person killed and three injured, were caused by suspect Jo Sun. He is suspected of murder and attempted murder, has three criminal records including assault, and had been sent to the Juvenile Court 14 times as a minor.
Cause of the Incident: The prosecution states that Jo Sun committed the crime when he was being sued because of his posting on an internet community while also leading a secluded life after suffering from successive failures. The prosecution mentioned that he was a game addict and that he committed the crime intentionally due to accumulated emotions such as dissatisfaction and frustration.
Features of the Suspect: According to the police, Jo Sun is classified as suffering from antisocial personality disorder. They said he received a score above the standard level in the psychopathic diagnostic test. Additionally, he refused to have his mugshot released.
-Sexual Assault and Murder Incident at Sillim-dong (Case of Choi Yoon Jong)-
Explanation of the Incident: On 17 August, at around 11:40am., Choi Yoon Jong allegedly committed rape-murder, by killing a 30’s woman after beating and sexually assaulting her on a hiking trail in Sillim-dong, Gwanak-gu, Seoul. He stated that he purchased brass knuckles for the purpose of rape, hit and strangled her.
Cause of the Incident: It is believed that the crime was caused by the desire to be more famous than the other people who committed crimes recently.
Features of the Suspect: According to the police, he was not a psychopathic criminal because he scored below the standard level on the psychopathic diagnostic test. Additionally, he agreed to have his mugshot released. This was the second mugshot opened to the public in Korea.
-Stabbing Incident at Seohyeon Station (Case of Choi Won Jong)-
Explanation of the Incident: On 3 August, a stabbing occurred in Seohyun-dong, Gyeonggi Province. 2 people were killed and 12 people were seriously injured. Choi is suspected of murder, attempted murder, preparation of murder, special injuries, attempted special injuries, and interference with a public official in the exercise of his duty, and so on.
Cause of the Incident: This case occurred due to Choi’s paranoia that he was being stalked. According to the analysis of experts, it is believed that the incident was triggered by videos of the Jo Sun incident. Choi chose to stab innocent people due to the delusion that someone like Jo Sun stalking him might come to kill Choi.
Features of the Suspect: Choi Won Jong is suffering from mental illness. He suffers from schizophrenia. Additionally, he refused to let his mugshot be released.
-People's View that Indiscriminate Crime is Unusual-
Citizens feel deep sorrow for the victims and anger toward criminals over the series of tragic incidents. However, there are also controversial secondary offenses such as defending the perpetrator and criticizing the victim with various opposing views.
Most of the victims of the stabbing incident at Sillim Station are men, but one community posted comments defending the perpetrator to encourage gender conflict. The content of the sentence is “The old and young children and women were not attacked, so let's not punish the perpetrator.” “He is the perpetrator, but he is an alpha male.” Moreover, there were also comments criticizing the victims. In the incident at that time, there was a video of a woman pushing away the armed criminal with her bare hands, helping her boyfriend and then them running away together. When the community saw this, they criticized the victim with comments such as, “It's pathetic to leave her and run away.” It showed a case in which indiscriminate weapon crimes can cause social gender conflicts. In addition, the first report of the Sillim-dong sexual assault reported that the victim was exercising. This is because the crime scene was on a hiking trail. However, after it was reported that the victim was an elementary school teacher, comments appeared such as, “Elementary school teachers go out to play because they are on vacation.” However, this is not true, and the victim's colleague explained that she had gone to work to receive training at that time. It can be seen as a case in which the victim's reputation was tarnished by misinformation being reported and misjudgment by the public. In addition to these comments, there were comments about the victims being carless.
Either of the above crimes could happen to regular people like you or me. Therefore, it is important to create a responsible online culture by thinking about the wounds that the remaining victims feel when leaving comments online. In order to prevent secondary harm, standards and punishment regulations should be clearly established socially, and efforts should be made to identify information that is objectively true.
-How to Survive Indiscriminate Crimes: Self-Defense items-
The defining characteristic of indiscriminate crimes is that the target has not been determined ahead of time. Therefore, citizens want to buy self-defense items with the idea that they can be attacked in order to protect them from such threats. In fact, after the Sillim-dong knife incident, it was confirmed that the sales of self-defense products at that time increased significantly compared to last year. Interpark Shopping said sales of self-defense items increased 123% from the same period last year. Furthermore, Gmarket said sales were up 243% and 11Street said they were up 202% from a year ago. Coupang announced that delivery is being delayed due to a shortage of some products of its self- defense item, Samdanbong. In addition, the purchase of self-defense items by male customers has also increased rapidly. Under the influence of product sales, from August 3, self-defense items ranked 1st to 4th on the charts in shopping trend rankings.
However, high-performance self-defense items might be regulated. For example, in the case of a gas gun fired with compressed gas, an electric shocker with a current amount exceeding 10mA, or a self-defense spray with a range of 3m to 6m or more, you must get permission from the police. All other items can be used freely. If the purpose of self-defense items is altered, they may become new forms of weapons. Therefore, regulations to impose sanctions are urgently needed. Since all self-defense products cannot be regulated, we can discuss ways to punish suspects who use self-defense items as criminal tools. Furthermore, the government also needs to discuss revising the Police Officer Execution Act so that brass knuckles and three-dan bars can be included in the “Act on Safety Management of Guns, Swords, and Explosives” to maintain social order.
As previously stated, because the crimes with abnormal motives are constantly occurring, a loophole in the legislation was shown. Not only this, since negative publicity of people surrounding these issues continues, the government has said they’ll take strong action on it. The July 21st Sillim Station knife attack became a trigger, resulting in a lot of threats being posted on various SNS. Therefore, public opinion is growing that not only those who commit heinous actions must be punished, but also those who didn’t carry out the plan but made the public anxious by posting threats on social media must be punished as well. However, if Article 283, ‘A Crime of Blackmail’ can be applied the clear object should exist. In other words, vague public threats don't correspond to a crime of blackmail, so the penalty level becomes lower than the action’s seriousness. Due to this, the prosecution strongly claimed the need for a new bill called the ‘Public Intimidation Bill’ that can punish the threats against unspecified individuals with life imprisonment without parole, which is different from parole where criminals can be released after twenty years in jail. Besides the changes in laws, the government is implementing ‘Knife Attack Crime Special Security Actions’ to respond positively and to keep the citizens safe from the crimes with abnormal motives.
Knife Attack Crime Special Security Actions consist of 4 actions.
① Control the crime atmosphere by using most of the police force and strengthening patrols.
② Enforce the inspection against people who are suspected of possession of weapons or abnormal behavior.
③ Positively apply the exemption provisions for the police and allowing officers the use of guns and taser guns against knife attack crimes.
④Secure the safety of civil life space through the positive cooperation with autonomous community, voluntary night guards and private security corporation.
Meanwhile, the suspect Jo Sun, who attacked four victims in Sillim Station, and Choi Won Jong, who attacked fourteen victims in Seohyeon Station, both rejected releasing their mugshots. Therefore, citizens raised their voices in criticism about the procedure requiring a suspect’s permission to release their mugshots by saying, "The procedure that requires the suspect’s permission protects the suspect’s human rights too much.” However, if the investigative agency declares the facts of the suspected crime that they discovered during the investigation process before the prosecution, they’ll be punished by criminal law Article 126, the crime of publication of criminal facts. Actually, the procedure regarding mugshots is hard to sort out because two values, the protection of human rights and right to know are conflicting. Not only this, but in Korea, the principle called ‘the presumption of innocence’, in which the suspect is considered innocent before the judgement of a conviction is settled, applies to every person. If the details of the suspect are released before the final ruling, the suspect may be branded as a criminal even if they are eventually acquitted.
The public opinion that we should release the personal information of serious crime suspects is getting stronger, so the government expanded the scope of such crimes to include rebellion, crime groups, sexual crimes against children and adolescents and drug crime etc. Moreover, on September 21st the ‘High Crime Suspect’s Mugshot Reveal Bill’ went through the legislative and judiciary committee, meaning that the investigative agency can open the mugshot they take to the public within thirty days starting from the date of decision to personal information disclosure. Hereby, this bill is going to begin in earnest after three months from the date of announcement.
A lot of innocent people were hurt and died because of the heinous level of crimes with abnormal motives that have recently occurred. Due to this, the government recognized the seriousness of the current situation, and their meaningful action like the ‘Mugshot Release Legislative Bill’ is proceeding. They are also focusing on establishing a new bill that can deal with the present situation. However, a blind spot of the law still exists. Thus, the government should carefully look at the laws that exist establish whether they are being applied in their original legislated aim. For a truly relaxed society, not only the government’s efforts but mature citizenship and upright product and consumption of media are also important. Currently, many press outlets are using the phrase ‘Crimes with Abnormal Motives’ and repeatedly publishing articles about these crimes, so when we read the article, it seems like the crimes with abnormal motives occurrence frequency is high, but the reality is that this is not the case. The press that should be our information delivery isn’t performing their job properly. Meanwhile, some people who are consuming the media are asserting that the crime occurs because of the victim’s carelessness and justifying the crime and suspects by their immature character. However, we know this kind of attitude and thinking is absolutely wrong. When, where, and whatever the victim did, the heinous acts of the perpetrators can never be justified. The cause of crime and the arrow of criticism is the suspect who did the acts that are clearly wrong legally, socially, or humanely, not the victims. The aim that everyone wants, ‘A society that is safe from crime,’ might not be easy or even possible, but if the steady efforts of the government, right production and consumption in the media, and mature citizenship assemble, we might reach closer to this dream.
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