Ending the Vicious Cycle of the Child Abuse

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: South Korea

Publishing organisation: KBS, Korean Broadcasting System

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 2022-02-06

Language: Korean

Authors: Journalist : Lee Hyung-gwan, Cha Joo-ha, Youn Kyung-jae
Filming & Video Editing: Ji Seung-hwan, Kim Dae-yeong
Researcher: Chu So-hyun, Yoo Ha-eun
Data Analysis and Visualization:
Jeong Han-jin, KBS Public Media Research Institute
Hwang Kyung-ho, Kyungnam University


Journalist Lee Hyung-gwan received the grand prize in the 2022 TV News category awarded by the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union(ABU) for this work ‘Ending the Vicious Cycle of Child Abuse’. Also, he produced ‘Land of the Extinct, how does the local city collapse?’ which is the single project 2022 shortlist.

Project description:

This investigative report aims to raise awareness about child abuse and call for institutional change.

The reporters attempted a kind of ‘social autopsy’ on child abuse crimes. We wanted to discover why child abuse crimes are repeated through an accurate diagnosis of the phenomenon, as you would a physical autopsy when searching for the cause of death.

1,406 first-instance criminal judgments related to child abuse were collected from July 2019 to July 2021 via the Internet reading service of the Supreme Court rulings. Based on this, we analyzed all available records, which consisted of 2,367 victims and 1,406 perpetrators.

Impact reached:

We are the first in Korea to conduct a comprehensive analysis to identify the reality of child abuse crimes hidden in statistical figures. In addition, all the child abuse cases covered in the report have been disclosed for the first time.

The reporters obtained over 1,400 first-instance criminal judgments from courts across the country over the past two years related to child abuse and analyzed the records of 2,367 victims and 1,406 perpetrators. Three keywords came out as a result.

The first is ‘hidden.’ Most child abuse perpetrators were family members or guardians such as schoolteachers. The location of the crime was particularly high in residential areas. The greater the damage, such as a child being injured or killed, the more it took place in a residential area. Child abuse was structurally difficult to discover from the outside.

The second is ‘excuse.’ In the rulings, perpetrators gave 1,152 reasons for their abuse. 8 out of 10 claimed that children’s trivial words and actions were the cause. Experts point out that these were excuses made by abusive parents and guardians.

The last is the ‘rescue signal.’ Result of a separate analysis of 55 severe damage cases, such as serious injury and death, revealed suspicious signs, such as the perpetrator’s history of abuse or the victim’s old wounds. Experts emphasize that people must pay close attention to discovering children’s rescue signals.

Techniques/technologies used:

Korea discloses the verdicts of civil and criminal cases in which actual sentences have been confirmed on the Internet through a service. Using this service, we secured 1,406 first-trial criminal rulings for child abuse sentenced in the last two years with the keywords’ child’ and ‘abuse.’

The reporters built a database based on the contents of the rulings. First, it was typed in Excel to be categorized for data analysis. The 20 or so classification criteria for categorization include perpetrator-victim relationship, punishment, type of abuse, duration of abuse, age and gender of the victim child, degree of damage, and reason for sentencing.

Since the reporters read the rulings one by one, minor errors may have occurred in transferring the contents of the rulings to a Word document. However, no errors were overseen during the statistical data analysis based on the transferred data. Accordingly, the reporters cross-checked the contents over three months to see if there were any incorrect items or contents. The rulings were also rechecked more than five times.

In the process of analyzing the child abuse verdict, various experts such as child human rights lawyers, social welfare professors, members of child protection agencies, and Save the Children were consulted. We studied the correlation between the sentencing in the rulings and the crime facts, abuse type, abuse duration, and the reasons for sentencing. We identified the attitudes of judges in adjudicating cases of abuse and trends in sentencing.

Among the data analysis and field coverage results, we included some of the representative content in productions such as documentaries and broadcast news. An interactive news page and a data archive page were newly built and organized for more detailed information. In this process, we used Excel, word cloud, R, html5/css3, jquery, and javascript for data visualization and website creation.

Context about the project:

We also uncovered hidden child abuse cases unknown to the public, holding our society and the state responsible for these happenings. The death in a dance academy in Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang-do, and the death of a 16-month-old infant in Dangjin, South Chungcheong-do, are prime examples.

Our in-depth coverage period lasted for more than three months and was conducted through various sources of information, such as the victim’s children and the police in charge of their cases. We also obtained exclusive material, such as prosecution investigation data and NFS autopsy data, to investigate the issue. In addition, we accused our society’s indifference for repeatedly ignoring the rescue signals sent by children, the negligence of duty-reporters, and the state’s insensitivity.

Furthermore, through overseas coverage, we criticized the passivity of domestic child abuse prevention. We pointed out that, unlike the United States, which reformed the overall child protection system through a national fact-finding investigation into child abuse and death cases, Korea has not conducted a single national fact-finding investigation despite the proposal of related laws. In addition, we gained exclusive access to the national fact-finding report of the United States. We studied the above to provide concrete solutions to child abuse, including social welfare promotion, perpetrator education to prevent recurrences, strengthening social duty to report child abuse, securing facilities and human resources to protect child victims, and expanding the government’s child abuse budget.

Like all journalists, the KBS Special coverage team poured their hearts into this more than ever. It was because this report covered dead or injured children.

The coverage team was engulfed in many worries as they faced the horrid scenes of the incidents, met the victims, and listened to their earnest appeals. If we wanted to get ‘viewership’ by conveying these events and voices in a very raw way, there were infinite ways of doing so. We considered this, as we thought if the coverage gains the spotlight by showing provocative and violent content, people’s interest could help raise awareness about child abuse crimes.

However, the reporting team decided to preserve the dignity of journalism. Provocative and violent scenes or stories out of line were intentionally excluded from the article’s content. We portrayed stories objectively and dryly as much as we could rather than appealing to the viewers in an emotional and stirring way. A desperate story, or a story of good and evil, is great for attracting attention, but its fatal flaw is that it taints the purpose of the story being told in the first place.

The reporters hope that the stories told in this project will remain in viewers’ hearts for a long time, even if they are a little less intense than others.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

This investigative report aims to raise awareness about child abuse and call for institutional change. We focus on proposing systematic problems and their solutions rather than providing a sketch or fragmentary coverage that mainly deals with stirring or provocative content.

In response, we decided to break the custom of the Korean media that does not disclose the coverage data and organize and disclose the ruling data analyzed over several months. This is because we hope that the materials used in the report will be used in various ways in Korean society and the media.

Already, our coverage materials are being used everywhere. A research team led by Jeong Ik-joong, a professor at the Department of Social Welfare at Ewha Woman’s University, who has studied the issue of child abuse for a long time, wrote a research paper on ‘reasons for sentencing’ based on the results of the ruling analyzed by KBS reporters. It was published in issue 131 (2022) of ‘Criminal Policy Research.’ A research team led by Professor Lee Soo-jeong of the Department of Criminal Psychology at Kyonggi University also wrote a thesis in line with the “Criminal Psychology of Abuse Perpetrators.”

The interest of national institutions was also hot. The National Institute of Scientific Investigation prepared a research report on child abuse and death cases along with the results of the KBS reporters’ rulings analysis. The Seoul Metropolitan Government Child Abuse Response Team is also establishing preventive measures to eradicate child abuse based on the reporters’ coverage. The civic group “Political Mothers” also shared the contents of the broadcast and voiced the need to pass a special law on child abuse fact-finding at the national level.

We are proud to create information that can be used and analyzed from various angles to promote child human rights.

Project links: