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(Yonhap Feature) Amid rising rage crimes, Korea in need of anger remedies

2017/06/29 09:11

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By Kim Seung-yeon

SEOUL, June 29 (Yonhap) -- On June 8, an apartment resident in his early 40s in the southeastern city of Yangsan used an industrial blade to sever a rope by which a worker was hanging 12 floors above the ground. His reason for the murder was that he couldn't bear the loud music the worker was playing on his mobile phone.

In February 2015, a restaurant owner in southern Seoul stabbed a regular customer 33 times with a kitchen knife. The killer said he couldn't suppress his anger when he heard from the customer that the soup was too salty.

These are only some of the most shocking of a growing number of impulsive violence cases in which people often snap over such trivialities. Data from the Supreme Prosecutors' Office shows that accidental violence increased by more than fivefold to 71,036 cases as of end-2014 from 10,810 tallied in 2004.

"We're all exposed to irritation everyday. And we either hold it back or get it off our chest by talking to our family or crying before friends. But for some, they just don't know how to do that. They've never done it in their lives," Kwon Il-yong, a former profiler at the National Police Agency, told Yonhap News Agency on Thursday.

(Yonhap file graphic photo) (Yonhap file graphic photo)

The reality that offenders are very much in fact "ordinary people" has bewildered many, with a sense of looming fear that, somewhere along the line, they could be the next random target or that they could even act out of rage.

"It's scary to think that someone around us can inflict such an awful thing on someone else. I try not to, because it's not courteous, but I can't help turning my kids away from a stranger if (he or she) comes over to say 'hi' or pat them on the cheek. Who knows what they're up to?" said Lim Ja-young, 34, living in Songpa, east of Seoul.

Kwon pointed out that a lot of the perpetrators, though they seem "normal" at first, have long experienced alienation and disrespect in their lives. "The accumulated loss of personal ties in part led them to hurt others. They show no remorse because they're hardly bonded with anyone."

   Social disconnection is becoming more prevalent in communities. It's not hard to come across online postings by those infuriated by so-called "floor noise" in Korea. It refers to disturbing sounds such as footsteps or an active washing machine from a neighbor upstairs in an apartment. Floor noise, too, has been a motive in some rage crimes that have led to murder.

"Another sleepless night by the rattles a floor up. God knows what they are... I'm finally beginning to understand people setting things on fire or killing for the noise," a netizen wrote in an online community site.

Experts say that such pathological anger has reached an alarming level. In this society plagued by tough competition, a rising income gap and unabated woes about social injustice, it is no longer a personal issue for some individuals, but an endemic problem in which ignored embitterment is destroying people's empathy.

"There are few ways out for Koreans if they do something and fail. The grudge against such unfairness has made resentment take root and (us) not care about others," Ahn Yong-min, a neuropsychiatry professor at Seoul National University, said.

This file photo, taken on May 22, 2016, captures a wall near Gangnam Station, south of Seoul, filled with notes with words of consolation from citizens for a 23-year-old woman who was killed by a stranger in a random murder earlier in the month. The suspect, surnamed Kim, told police that he picked the victim by chance because he held grudges against women. (Yonhap) This file photo, taken on May 22, 2016, captures a wall near Gangnam Station, south of Seoul, filled with notes with words of consolation from citizens for a 23-year-old woman who was killed by a stranger in a random murder earlier in the month. The suspect, surnamed Kim, told police that he picked the victim by chance because he held grudges against women. (Yonhap)

There has been little study on pathological anger or anger-related crimes in Korea. A lawmaker only proposed a bill late last year to lay the groundwork for the legal classification of rage crimes. Related treatment facilities or government agencies are still at the nascent stage.

Experts call for government steps to draw up a framework to tackle anger-associated phenomena as a formal policy initiative.

Anger is in fact a positive emotional mechanism that releases a person from anxiety or stress, but the ability to control wrath is only developed through training, either via professional help or at home.

"Sadly a family no longer helps many to learn the basics of socialization, or to build one's integrity," Lee Dong-gwi, a psychology professor at Yonsei University, said. Korea has seen a fast-growing number of single households, which account for 27.8 percent of the total population as of last year.

Lee, critical of expensive fees for psychiatric therapies, stressed the need for the treatment to be subject to state health insurance benefits.

"The U.S. has adopted a sliding scale system for psychiatric counseling, by which a patient pays a fee based on their income. We charge at least 100,000 won (US$87) per hour. Let's ask who's willing to pay for that."

   Ahn suggested the adoption of regular psychological counseling to be provided from an early stage of life, such as in school.

"If we cannot avoid competition-driven education, we should make efforts to provide various channels for youth to help them build self-contentment. Inferiority complexes have often been a backdrop to rage crimes," he said.

"It's like a cold. When you catch one, you go to the doctor. It's time we did the same when we deal with anger," Kwon added.

elly@yna.co.kr

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