The Under-Protection of Women Under Korean Criminal Law

How to Cite

Cho, K. (2008). The Under-Protection of Women Under Korean Criminal Law. Columbia Journal of Asian Law, 22(1).


Since the Republic of Korea (“Korea”) politically democratized in the late 1980s, efforts have been made to achieve comparable democratization in the social and cultural spheres.  Many other concerns which had previously been overshadowed by the goal of achieving political freedom from authoritarian military rule, such as women’s human rights in the criminal justice system, have since received increased attention.  Korean women’s groups, such as the Korean Women’s Association United, have persistently demanded that victims of sexual violence be well cared for and protected.  In 1992, a girl killed her stepfather, who had repeatedly raped and abused her since she was twelve years old.  This case drew attention to domestic violence and the killing of male abusers by battered women.  Although two special Acts to punish sexual and domestic violence were passed in response to the activism of the women’s movement in the 1990s, Korean criminal law and jurisprudence still do not fully address the issues surrounding women’s human rights in criminal justice.

This article critically reviews Korean criminal law and procedure as they pertain to women.  First, it explores the male-centered definition of rape in Korean criminal law, which recognizes a marital exemption and continues to require the use of “utmost force/threat” and the victim to complain.  Second, it examines the experience of rape victims in the Korean criminal process and then briefly proposes and evaluates modifications for a new system of protection.  Third, it analyzes the reluctance of Korean jurisprudence to justify or excuse a battered woman’s killing of her abusive husband or partner in both confrontational and non-confrontational situations.