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Until new legislation comes into effect in September, stalking offenders are only punishable with a fine not exceeding 100,000 won – just US$90. Photo: Shutterstock

Triple-murder case in South Korea exposes shortfalls of new stalking law

  • After stalking a woman, a man murdered her as well as her sister and mother before living in the women’s flat for three days
  • Experts say even though new anti-stalking legislation imposes a jail term and hefty fines on offenders, initial stalking cases are punishable only by fines, leaving victims vulnerable
South Korea
A South Korean man murdered two sisters and their mother at the women’s flat before living there for three days, consuming food and alcohol at the crime scene, in a case that has gripped the country.

The suspect, Kim Tae-hyon, 24, has been in custody since he was arrested at the flat on March 23. A Seoul district court on Sunday issued an arrest warrant for him on multiple murder charges.

South Korea’s presidential Blue House on Monday announced its decision to reveal the 24-year-old’s identity due to the heinous nature of the crime.

The country’s police and judicial authorities normally withhold suspects’ identities from the public on grounds of privacy, but an online petition filed with the Blue House calling for the publication of his identity was backed by more than 200,000 people.

Kim, stalker and murder in South Korea

Kim had been stalking a 24-year-old woman with whom he became acquainted through an online game site in January, according to local media reports.

He posed as a courier and deceived the woman’s sister – who was alone in the flat – into opening the door, before fatally stabbing her.

He then ambushed and stabbed the woman’s mother, who returned home five hours later, before he attacked and killed the woman he had been stalking when she arrived home an hour after her mother.

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Kim stayed in the flat for three days afterwards, according to the Chosun newspaper, cooking and helping himself to beer from the refrigerator.

He attempted to erase data from his mobile phone, and hurt himself by slitting his wrists, stomach and throat, before he was arrested in the flat by police who had been contacted by friends of the deceased who were concerned about her absence.

After being treated in hospital for several days, Kim admitted to having committed the murders during questioning by police.

“I’m sorry,” was his terse response to journalists’ questions about his motives as he emerged from a police station on Saturday, wearing a cap and hooded coat to hide his face.

Kim became angry after he had been repeatedly turned down since January by the victim, who accidentally revealed her home address while playing a game online, according to news reports that quoted her friends.

Police, citing the gruesomeness of the case, said they would use mental health professionals to determine the extent of the suspect’s psychopathic tendencies.


South Korea tries to crack down on spycam porn

South Korea tries to crack down on spycam porn

The murders come in the wake of new legislation passed by South Korea this month to toughen the punishment for stalking, which had long been treated only as a misdemeanour.

Under the new law, which comes into effect in September, serious offenders can be punished with a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to 50 million won (US$44,000).

Offenders were previously only punished with a fine not exceeding 100,000 won – just US$90.

The number of stalking cases handled by local police increased from 312 in 2013 to 583 last year.

But experts say there is a loophole in the new law, which stipulates that offenders cannot be punished if victims want them to be pardoned.

“This is a serious loophole as the new law failed to take into account the possibility that offenders may threaten victims and their relatives into expressing a wish to pardon them, while the victims are afraid of retaliation from offenders,” said spokesperson Lee Su-yeon of the Korean Women Lawyers Association.

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Victims should be allowed to directly file for a court order to protect themselves, Lee said, rather than waiting for police to file for such an order, a process that might take many days.

She said South Korean police had not yet completely abandoned their outdated perceptions about stalking, considering it a love-related issue among individuals, which prevented them from acting on stalking offences swiftly and sternly.

As a 29-year-old woman told the Yonhap news agency: “I had long been stalked and threatened by my ex-boyfriend, but when I reported it to police, neither the offender nor police considered it a crime.

“This kind of experience would make victims hesitant to make a police report even after the new law goes into effect.”

Under the new law, police can issue temporary restraining orders to offenders, banning them from going within 100m of victims as well as calling or texting them.

However, offenders who receive these initial restraining orders – which are aimed at preventing stalking from developing into a serious crime – are punishable only by fines.

“Fines are not enough to restrain offenders from continuing stalking,” said Lee Soo-jeong, forensic psychology professor at Kyonggi University, who called for tougher punishments for the initial stages of stalking, including jail terms.