The release of ‘Silenced‘ (도가니) (aka ‘The Crucible’) has caused an unprecedented level of controversy in Korea.
Depicting the true-life story of the shocking sexual abuses that occurred in 2000 at a school for disabled children by the staff – including the principal – Silenced has enraged the public to such a degree that policies and laws are changing. Watch the trailer here.
Released on Sept. 22nd, the film tells of the story of teacher Kang In Ho (강인호) who joins Inhwa school for the hearing impaired in Gwangju. As he begins to learn about the terrible atrocities being committed, he joins Seo Yoo Jin (서유진), a humans rights activist, to help bring the case to the attention of the authorities. Worse still, the six offenders received incredibly lenient sentences; only two received prison sentences, while the other four had suspended sentences or were not punished due to the statute of limitations. The school continued to operate – and some of the accused even returned to the school to teach. It is not known exactly how many victims, or even how many perpetrators, there are as Korean law requires the victims make a complaint.
The outrage surrounding the film has sparked calls for sexual offenders to be prosecuted more severely, and for the statute of limitations to be removed altogether. The public have asked for the case to be reinvestigated. Editorials have been written condemning the leniency given to sexual offenders. Politicians, eager to side with public opinion, also addressed the issue to the point where even President Lee Myung Bak (이명박) stated:
“It is necessary to make legal and institutional supplementations to prevent a similar incident from happening again.”
This in turn has opened an even wider debate on criminal background checks on teachers. The Education Ministry began a consensus asking for details from 189,759 nurseries, schools and private academies. Only 85.2% of teachers submitted details to the Ministry, while 17,891 refused. Currently, foreign teachers must have a criminal background check in order to teach in Korea. Additionally, the punishment sexual offenders has come under review with measures calling for harsher fines, jail terms, and expulsion from the education profession. A list of the measures are reviewed here.
Further still, prosecutors have used this momentum to examine sexual assaults in more depth, such as when, where and who are involved. The ongoing and expanding outrage even led to a report on the issues raised in The Economist.
It’s incredible how Silenced/The Crucible has achieved such notoriety to the point where policies are being examined and laws changed, especially considering it was based on a novel that had been in circulation for years prior. It has remained in the top spot since its release, with current figures suggesting nearly 4 million people have watched it thus far. Initially, director Hwang Dong Hyeok (황동혁) didn’t want to make the film due to the distressing content, however with the triumphant change in policies to protect children across Korea, it’s a very good thing he did.