More than four months have passed since the tragic suicide of Goo Hara, best known as a member of the Korean girl band Kara. Besides a self-restraining effect it has had online commenters who are often less than kind, Goo’s death has given rise to discussions on two ethical issues in the Korean society today, most ostensibly led by her older brother’s campaign. These issues are significant because they could well end up bringing about changes in the law.
The first is about Goo’s closest blood relation who will benefit from her death: her mother. Goo’s brother has openly declared that her (and his) mother had abandoned them when they were very young, and that it is not fair for her to benefit by her daughter’s inheritance.
This issue has been raised before. For example, after the drowning of school children in the Sewol ferry, and the death of a single father with children whose mother had abandoned them, the question was raised whether it was right for the “underserving” parents to benefit by the government’s compensation or insurance money.
In the case of Goo, her brother has led a formal petition for a “Goo Hara Bill” to be passed by the National Assembly. The petition has been signed by a hundred thousand people and therefore qualifies to be reviewed by the relevant committee made up of legislators.
The gist of the bill is to disqualify “immediate family members of the deceased who have grossly neglected the duty to protect or support the deceased”. If the bill is passed, it will not stop Goo’s mother from inheriting, but things may be different for others who abandon or neglect their family members.
The second issue to be raised recently by Goo’s brother is related to her ex-boyfriend Choi Jong-beom, who at the first trial was found not-guilty of illegally photographing her, though guilty of physical assault and blackmail. The court acknowledged that Choi’s photographs of Goo were sexual and could invoke humiliation, but that there were insufficient grounds to suppose that they were taken against her will.
Goo Ho-in, Goo Hara’s older brother, is addressing this issue as a date-violence problem. He has openly accused Choi of driving his sister to suicide. After being released on probation, Choi was allegedly unremorseful and threw a party at his new venue of business, a couple of months before Goo Hara’s suicide.
This is clearly a moral or ethical issue. In the eyes of the law Choi is not a murderer, and callousness is not punishable.
However, in Korea, public sentiments tend to go a long way in establishing a precedent that may redefine a crime. It may be that “date violence” could be stretched to include something that ended up in an unforeseen tragedy, or it may be that Choi’s apparent lack of remorse may render him guilty in more ways in the appeal court, which opens in May.
It will be interesting to see what changes, if any, are brought about in Korea regarding “undeserving beneficiaries” and “date violence”.