A string of recent sex abuse cases in which the defendants were given controversially light sentences sparked outrage and calls for the judiciary to take a tougher stance on abuse against children.
Last month, a district court in Kaohsiung handed down a 38-month sentence — less than half the time sought by prosecutors — to convicted rapist Lin Yi-fang (林義芳) after saying the six-year-old female victim did not show “strong will” in fighting off her attacker.
In another recent ruling, judges at the Supreme Court ordered the retrial of a high-profile rape case after finding that prosecutors failed to prove that the act, by an alleged perpetrator surnamed Lai (賴), was against the three-year-old girl’s wishes.
In both cases, the defendants were sentenced under current law of having sexual relations with a person below the age of 14 rather than the more serious charge of sexual assault, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Lawmakers are now pushing to reform this system.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) has called on the government to closely study two US laws that impose heavy mandatory sentencing for sexual abuse of minors and sex offender registration.
“What we are concerned with is that our country’s laws are simply not heavy enough [to deter this type of crime],” Tien said at the legislature yesterday.
One of the US laws, informally known as Jessica’s Law, has been implemented in a number of states and gives judges no choice but to give at least 25 years in prison and lifetime electronic monitoring if an adult is convicted of sexual acts against a victim under 12.
The other, a package of acts known as Megan’s Law, requires sex offenders to notify local law enforcement agencies of any changes in address or employment details after their release from prison. This information is then in most cases made available to the public.
“Even if there is hope that the offenders can re-enter society, which we would welcome, we still cannot give up surveillance [on their actions],” DPP Legislator Huang Sue-ying (黃淑英) said.
Huang said the law would better protect the public from offenders like Hsu Jung-chou (許榮洲), a serial child molester who sexually assaulted three five and six-year-old girls between 1997 and 2003 and is scheduled to be released on Friday. Media reported yesterday that Hsu had professed worries that he could be a recidivist despite his 11-year incarceration.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers also said they would support tougher measures. In addition to plans for introducing tougher penalties for family members or teachers that fail to report cases of sexual abuse, KMT Legislator Yang Li-huan (楊麗環) said that information on sexual predators should be made public.
The Children’s Welfare League Foundation added its voice to the debate yesterday, calling for improvements in the judiciary, including the re-education of judges and putting more emphasis on expert witnesses. Citing Ministry of the Interior statistics, the foundation said that from 2005 through last year, as many as 18,570 children were victims of sexual abuse. Sexual offenses against children under the age of six also increased from 188 children in 2005 to 270 last year.
Alicia Wang (王育敏), executive director of the foundation, said official numbers grossly underestimated real numbers because children often hid their stories of abuse and their families were embarrassed to tell others.
“Young children may give inconsistent or unclear accounts of what actually happened, so it is more difficult to build a case,” she said.
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