"Second Victimization" of Sexually Abused Children in Korean Criminal Procedures
“A crumpled paper never goes back to the original condition,” remarked a father in an interview following the brutal rape of his 7-year-old daughter. The rape resulted in a loss of 80 percent of the child victim’s reproductive organs, large intestines and anus. All of Korea was left in a state of shock following the aftermath of this incident. This was not the end of the story however. Several years later, I found another article in a newspaper noting that the girl and her parents had won a damage suit against the government based on “secondary victimization.”
“Secondary victimization” means further victimization following the original victimization through subsequent actions by individuals and institutions. The girl was forced to repeat her testimony four times for two hours due to the prosecutor’s inexperience. In this particular case, the girl was not able to sit down without pain because the testimony had taken place immediately after her major surgery. Having to repeat her testimony in these dire circumstances clearly qualified as secondary victimization.
As in the case above, experts say that sexual crime victims suffer serious long-term psychological injuries throughout the subsequent adjudicative process. These traumatic injuries are coupled with the devastating effect of the abuse itself. This issue is particularly troubling in cases concerning young children ill-equipped mentally for a methodically ponderous adjudicative process requiring them to revisit their sufferings.
There are five major factors that are well documented in causing “secondary victimization” in criminal procedures: (1) facing the criminal again in the court; (2) delay of testifying; (3) repeated questions; (4) lack of legal knowledge; and (5) a coercive court environment. We might not prevent all child sexual crimes, but I strongly believe we can at least substantially mitigate the “secondary victimization” of victims during criminal trials by reforming how we process the testimony of victims.
It is said that child sexual crime is particularly difficult to prosecute, and pressure on the victims is extremely high because without the child’s testimony, it is not easy to find other compelling evidence. It is obvious that child victims would suffer terrible pain by having to face the criminal again in the court and that this pain may often be an obstacle to finding out exactly what took place. In many countries such as Japan, the United States (certain states) and even Korea, video tapes recording the child’s advance testimony is admissible as evidence at trial. Although video recording helps to decrease the mental distress of a child victim, it also has a negative side — a criminal loses his constitutional right to face witnesses in court and cross-examine them. In this sense, we need to balance a child victim’s right to be protected with the criminal’s right to a fair trial.
Another issue that causes additional trauma is that it often takes months if not years to go to trial after the crime occurs. This time frame causes children deep anxiety, disrupting treatment of the victim and often compromising the memory of the child.
Furthermore, a child victim may be asked to repeat the same things to a variety of people: parents, police officers, prosecutors and so on. Surveys suggest that the average is somewhere around 12 times.
Despite the necessity for consistency, repeated questions can decrease the accuracy of the statements by the victim and increase the risk of possible distortions. Research has shown that children tend to change words when they are asked the same question repeatedly. To remedy this issue, it would be wise to establish a court to deal exclusively with child sexual crimes, with a premium placed on expediting the legal process and mitigating suffering to the child. Such a court would delegate tasks to specialized investigators and prosecutors with sufficient experience and knowledge on child sexual crime and thereby minimize the need for multiple testimonies. In addition, cooperation with related field experts such as child psychiatrists should be commonly adopted.
Lack of legal knowledge and coercive court environments are other factors that make the process more difficult for child victims. Some efforts have been made to remedy this issue as well. In Scotland, for example, a “going to court” handout is issued, which explains legal terminology and process in an easily comprehensible manner, sometimes even using cartoons. In Alabama, the “Court Prep Group” has meetings with children to prepare for trials and decrease the child victim’s anxiety and fear. Other accommodations also have been made, such as establishing procedures that allow a judge to sit next to a child without a robe, allowing trustful people like parents to accompany child victims during trials or even providing a segregated safe waiting room equipped with toys and games.
In Korea, after the incident of the 7-year-old girl, public interest regarding protection for sexually abused children has increased. Support centers for sexual crime witnesses are in the works nationally throughout Korea. These centers are known to offer psychiatric counseling, security officers and also teach those legal procedures presently employed in developed countries. Although every nation faces different situations, I truly hope that all nations will continue to make concerted efforts to protect child victims in the manner in which Korea has chosen. Some people have called “second victimization” nothing less than “second rape.” Given the trauma such cases can cause to the young, it becomes all the more necessary to commit ourselves to preventing it from occurring.