A new film based on a true story is stirring up anger and a sense of helplessness among Korean moviegoers. The movie, called “Dogani” or “The Crucible” in English, is adopted from the bestselling book of the same name by Gong Ji-young, one of the most prominent and respected female writers in Korea. The book is about serial rapes of students by the headmaster and other adults in a school for the hearing-impaired in Gwangju, a city about 180 miles southwest of Seoul. The crimes went on for five years.
Right after they came to light in 2005, a police investigation and subsequent trial found two school officials guilty of repeated sexual assaults against young students. But they received only a slap on the wrist, getting jail sentences of just one and two years, respectively. Civic groups strongly pressed for further investigations and the National Human Rights Commission intervened in 2006. The agency later referred four more people on the staff of the school to the police on the same charges.
In 2007, a court found two more people, including the headmaster, guilty. But they were given a suspended sentence on the grounds that they had no criminal records and had reached “an agreement” with the parents of the victims. The headmaster died of pancreatic cancer in 2009. The school still is operating, and one of the suspects even returned to the school and still works there.
Since the movie opened last Thursday, more than 1 million people watched it. Internet forums and Twitter are full of comments deploring how those responsible for such a horrendous crime could get away with it. On Daum, the South Korean Internet portal, more than 440,000 people have so far signed a Web petition calling for further investigation. In response, the Education Office of Gwangju issued a statement on Tuesday with an apology for its inadequate handling of the case. It added it will further investigate.