September 15, 2022
SEOUL – Boksun was once hailed as a hero for helping save his owner from a stroke three years ago.
Last month, she was found bleeding profusely at her home in Jeongeup, North Jeolla province, after being brutally injured by an assailant. Her owner took her to a vet, but after learning of the high medical bills, he gave up trying to save her. She was later found dead in the refrigerator of a dog meat restaurant.
Boksun’s tragic story, made public by a local animal rights group, has raised tough questions about South Korea’s treatment of animals. From animal cruelty and the dog meat trade to a money-making pet industry and an ever-growing number of households living with pets, where does the country really stand?
Animal abuse on the rise, but rarely punished
Last week, the Beagle Rescue Network, which brought Boksun’s case to the public, asked police to investigate the original attacker as well as the dog’s owner for animal abuse. He said the unidentified owner should also be held responsible for the dog’s death, saying the person had handed over Boksun, who was still alive, to a dog meat trader. The dog’s owner refuted the claim, saying Boksun was already dead by then.
Owner liability debate aside, animal abusers in South Korea often get away with fines, if convicted, although animal welfare law prescribes a maximum sentence of three years in prison for cruelty to animals.
According to data obtained by the office of Representative Song Ki-hun of the opposition Democratic Party of Korea, only 2.9% of the 4,221 people accused of abusing animals between 2017 and March this year were charged. for a full trial.
About 47% did not face any criminal charges, while 32% of the defendants received summary judgment – a procedure in which the court, without a full trial, decides a case of simple or minor object usually resulting in a fine or penalty.
Of the 346 who received some form of punishment, almost 60% received fines. Only 5.5%, or 19 people, were sentenced to prison.
Under current law, a person who kills an animal through abuse can be punished by up to three years in prison or a 30 million won ($21,581) fine.
“There has been a significant improvement in public awareness of animal rights and protection, but the court has not kept up with the change,” Rep. Song said.
National Police Agency data released by the office of Representative Lee Myeong-soo of the ruling People’s Power Party shows that cases of animal abuse have risen sharply in recent years.
In 2011, there were 98 animal protection law violations, but the number rose to 398 in 2017 and 992 in 2020.
In July, police arrested two men suspected of operating a chat room sharing photos and videos of animal abuse, concluding a four-month investigation. The case has been dubbed the “Nth Room Animal Case”, in reference to the infamous crime of digital sexual exploitation that took place in open mobile and online chat rooms.
“The increase in cruelty to animals is becoming a serious social problem. Such acts (against animals) must be stopped, especially since there is a real risk that such violent acts target not only animals, but also humans,” Rep. Lee said.
Why do people mistreat animals?
With an increase in heartbreaking cases of animal cruelty making headlines, efforts have been made to understand the psychology of animal abusers. Some experts in criminal psychology point to similarities between animal abusers and violent criminals, as both groups of people lack empathy towards their victims.
Song Byung-ho, the head of the Korea Criminal Psychology Association, pointed out that different levels of antisocial personality disorder can be seen in animal abusers, such as a lack of empathy towards other beings and the inability to restrain his need for violence.
“If (animal abusers) are unable to satisfy the stimulus they desire by abusing animals, there is a substantial possibility that they will target humans, especially those who are relatively weak such as women or children. “Song said.
Lee Soo-jung, professor of forensic psychology at Kyonggi University, also pointed to the relatively high correlation between violent crime and animal abuse.
Some of Korea’s worst criminals have been found to have abused animals in the past. Infamous serial killer Yoo Young-chul, on death row for killing 20 people from 2003 to 2004, stabbed or beat dogs to death before embarking on his killing spree.
Serial killer Kang Ho-sun, who is on death row for killing 10 people, allegedly killed dogs he raised between 2003 and 2006, mostly through cruel means. “Killing dogs made me less sensitive to the idea of killing, and I couldn’t resist the urge to kill,” he allegedly said during his trial.
There have been studies around the world on the link between violence against animals and against humans. A 2008 report from the Michigan State University College of Law pointed to a correlation between animal abuse, domestic violence, and other forms of community violence.
“Cruelty to animals can be a harbinger of future violent behavior. A child’s aggressive and abusive behavior towards animals can predict future violence towards people,” the newspaper said, adding that a Child abusing an animal can be seen as a red flag to identify other violent behavior.Researchers noted how the Federal Bureau of Investigation considers past animal abuse when profiling serial killers.
John Douglas, a retired FBI criminal profiler, reportedly said that sadistic behavior towards animals is among the key similarities shared by many serial killers, and that the biggest predictor of future crimes was cruelty and torture towards animals. animals. He wrote in his book “Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit” that many serial killers’ first acts of violence are often the torture and/or killing of animals.
“Animals are not property”
With the growing awareness of animal rights in Korea, a series of efforts have been made to cover legal and systematic blind spots regarding animal cruelty. Although various issues are being discussed on many fronts, animal rights groups have focused on the country’s civil law, which recognizes animals simply as the property of the owner, as the most fundamental issue.
For example, because animals are just objects, a person who kills someone else’s animal is obliged to compensate for the purchase price of that animal, just like a neighbor who compensates for a broken window.
To solve this problem, a legislative procedure is underway to give legal status to animals, by adding the clause “animals are not property” in civil law. If signed into law, it will mark a symbolic breakthrough in the promotion of animal rights, although legal experts point out that reviews of other related clauses must take place for it to be effective.
For example, getting compensated for psychological injuries suffered after losing a pet to another person’s abuse should be much easier, compared to the days when pets were legally defined as property. .
A flurry of talks is currently underway on related issues.
The Justice Department said it is considering revising the clause that will exclude animals from forcible seizures of property. Representative Shin Jung-hoon of the main opposition Democratic Party proposed a review bill on the same subject in July. Other possible revisions include expanding the legal definition of pets, which now only refers to dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs and hamsters.
“The Civic Act is a fundamental law which can serve as a basis for the revision of other laws. For example, efforts to exclude pets from items that can be forcibly seized in court had been thwarted in the past because they conflicted with current civic law (which recognizes animals as property),” said said attorney Jo Hae-in of the Korea Animal Welfare Association was quoted. “Procuring animal rights does not end with the revision of the civil law, but begins with it.”
A revision to the Animal Welfare Act will come into force on April 27, 2023, which will introduce harsher penalties for perpetrators of animal cruelty.
Neglecting a pet that results in its death would carry the same penalty as killing an animal by abuse – imprisonment for up to three years.
The new law will also ban convicted animal abusers from having pets and will require regional governments to confiscate and care for animals whose property has been confiscated from owners.