S.Korea writer hopes hit film brings legal changes
By Hyunyoung Yi
SEOUL (Reuters) - The South Korean author of a novel turned box-office hit about teachers who sexually abused disabled students has vowed to fight to the end to change what she says are outdated and weak sex crime laws.
The book "Dogani", or "The Crucible," and the film of the same name, are based on a true story about a new teacher at a school for deaf children who discovers that the principal and teachers abuse the students. The crimes take place over a number of years from 2000.
The new teacher decides to help the students by revealing the truth.
The book and subsequent film, released last month, have prompted a public outcry. Equally as shocking for the more than 4 million viewers of the film were the light punishments handed out to the convicted offenders.
"Through this movie, the fury of the people has brought a public consensus for stronger punishment so that children, disabled people, and women can be protected," author Gong Ji-young told Reuters.
"I don't know if these laws could be reformed by this outburst of interest, but when people take interest and step forward for the progression of our society, I will be honoured as the author."
Gong, 48, has a powerful supporter in her quest to toughen punishment for sex offenders -- the country's president, Lee Myung-bak.
After watching the film, Lee said society needed to be more conscious of sexual crimes against the disabled, and that he would work to better protect people with disabilities and minors.
The government has proposed amendments which are pending debate in parliament.
The film has provoked outrage in a country where respect and family values resonate. Many viewers said they felt shame.
Leading newspapers have given the movie blanket coverage, lamenting the lax legal process. The Korea Herald said in an editorial it had "turned the nation into a cauldron of seething public outrage".
Gong's book revisits the serial rapes of deaf students by teachers at a school in Gwangju, 330 km (200 miles) southwest of Seoul, over five years.
"From elementary school days to when I finished high school I lived through it. I want to show everything that happened," former student Yang Kil-seok, who left the school in 1984, told Reuters.
"While I'm glad the story has been told, it's said that it was only able to show a small amount of what happened."
Five school officials were indicted, but only two received jail terms of 20 months and 2-1/2 years. Of the remaining three, two were given suspended sentences and one was acquitted.
Gong is one of South Korea's most respected and acclaimed woman writers whose earlier works have chronicled the lives of Koreans who grew up in the political unrest of the 1980s. She said a newspaper article recounting the court scene when the sentences were delivered inspired her to write the story.
She said the last words she read about the hearing were "the courts were filled with the strange, anguished cries of the hearing-impaired people".
"It made me wonder what it would sound like, but for some bizarre reason, I could actually hear them in my imagination," she said. "It was a powerful experience that piqued my interest, and that's the reason I chose to visit the school.
"I know I must not forget the feeling in my heart when I first heard of the tragic story from the children and I must be with them to the end so their sacrifice and pain would not be in vain."
(Writing by Jeremy Laurence, editing by Elaine Lies and Ron Popeski)