The Korean movie Silenced is one of the rare movies that went on to cause social change in South Korea. The movie is based on the 2009 novel “Dogani” or “Crucible” in English by Gong Jee-young. This novel in turn was based on the real life story of the abuse and rape of deaf students at a school in Gwangju back in 2005.
The movie begins by showing the down on his luck teacher Kang In-ho, played by Gong Yoo, traveling to the rural city of Mujin to work at a school for deaf students. Setting the movie in a rural city instead of the real life metropolis of Gwangju seemed to help feed the storyline of the small town covering up for the sins of its most prominent citizen that would be depicted later in the movie. In-ho finds himself working for two brothers that run the school Lee Kang-bok and his identical twin Kang-suk. In-ho through a college connection was able to land the job at the deaf school, but when he arrives the twins demand a “donation” to the school that forces In-ho’s mother to sell her apartment to pay the donation so that her son can work there.
After paying the bribe In-ho begins to work with the deaf students at the school. It does not take In-ho very long to realize that some very strange things are going on at the school. He sees evidence of kids being abused and then eventually witnesses the abuse himself. The abused children slowly begin to trust and confide in In-ho about the abuse and the rape happening to them by not only the Lee brothers, but other faculty members as well. The scenes where the children describe their rape ordeals are very graphic and I was surprised to see something like that in a movie. If the director of the movie Hwang Dong-hyuk wanted to disgust people with child rape he definitely succeeded because it was hard to watch those scenes.
With the children’s testimony, In-ho in turns begins to work with a human rights activist he meets Seo Yoo-jin played by Jung Yoo-mi to document the abuse. They take their evidence to the local police who do nothing with it and instead warn the Lee brothers what In-ho is up to. He is quickly fired from the school, but In-ho and Yoo-jin next take the evidence of the abuse to the national media. The media report created a national uproar that forced the police to arrest the abusers. The rest of the movie goes on to show the court trial involving the Lee brothers and other faculty members. During the trial the children and their supporters are mocked repeatedly by protests from Christian groups that supported the deaf school and the Lee brothers. According to a New York Times interview with a human rights activists that worked the real life case in Gwangju this actually did happen:
“When court was in session, members of the Protestant church the principal and his family attended rallied outside the courthouse,” said Park Chan-dong, a human rights advocate who campaigned for the children. “They called us ‘evil’ and ‘Satan’ and loudly prayed that ‘hell fires’ would consume us.” [New York Times]
I recommend reading the entire New York Times report by Choe Sang-hun that shows that the movie pretty much mirrored much of what happened in the real life case. Despite the graphic rape of children in the movie what is really disgusting is the court trial at the end of the movie that depicts how corruption and cronyism can lead to a lack of justice in Korean courts. The ending is in fact what happened with the real life trial of the perpetrators. In that case the four teachers and administrators were convicted of raping or sexually molesting at least eight orphaned and handicapped students aged 7 to 22 from 2000 to 2004. However, only two of the four served any jail time which included the principal who was found guilty of raping a 13-year-old girl and taking a bribe of 3 million won, or $2,630, from a teacher. He was freed when an appeals court suspended his sentence. This caused outrage in the deaf community that Gong Jee-young wrote about in his book. This same outrage can be experienced by watching this movie.
As outrageous as this real life case was there is actually a verdict worse than this one, when a handicapped teenager who was repeatedly raped by four family members who all received suspended jail terms and the victim was handed over back to her abusers by the court. The court said that since the girl was handicapped she needed someone to care for her, so why not let the rapists continue to provide the care?
The outrage from these sex crimes and the attention they received from this movie, ultimately led to South Korea to change its sex crime laws. The sex crime laws were stiffened by passing legislation that prevented the “I was drunk defense” to get out of punishment for rape. I still have not seen any legislation banning the “she did not resist enough defense” though. Long time ROK Drop readers may remember the case of a female US Soldier that was raped by an Incheon taxi driver who successfully used this defense:
The Seoul High Court yesterday overturned the conviction by a lower court of a 49-year old taxi driver who had been charged with the rape of a 19-year old U.S. female soldier. The man had received a 10-month prison term in the original trial after being convicted of luring the newly-arrived servicewoman from Incheon International Airport to a hotel near there where the woman said he raped her.
The woman reported the incident to U.S. military authorities, who asked for assistance from Korean prosecutors.Â The appeals court ruled that the woman had shown no evidence of having refused the man’s advances, and that he used “not enough violence to constitute rape.”
Despite these tougher laws to include ones to protect minors, some teachers accused of sex crimes can still be found teaching in Korean schools:
Lim is only one of many sexual offenders who still hold their jobs as teachers after committing sexual crimes. A total of 242 teachers have been convicted of sexual crimes, including sexual harassment, molestation and sexual assault, over the past five years.
But 146, more than half, still work as teachers, according to data obtained by the JoongAng Ilbo in cooperation with Representative Joo Ho-young of the ruling Saenuri Party.
To me it seems if you were convicted of any sex crime against children you should not be teaching in a school. Silencedhas clearly led to much needed change in South Korea in regards to how it handles sex crime cases, but appears much more still needs to be done. If Korean society continues to push for sex crime law reforms hopefully we will not have to see any more of these outrageously lenient sex crime punishments ever again.
Note: For those interested in watching Silenced it can be viewed on Netflix or purchased from the Amazon link below: