This story has been corrected
SEOUL – A South Korean teenager who was raped by a U.S. soldier at her home more than a year ago refused to testify in his presence during an appeals hearing on Thursday.
Pvt. Kevin Robinson was convicted by the Seoul Central District Court in May of raping the woman, who was 17 at the time. He was sentenced to six years in prison. He was also convicted of stealing her laptop.
Robinson has maintained that the two had consensual oral sex after a night of drinking, but not intercourse.
Thursday’s hearing was the first time the victim has appeared in either his district court trial or his appeal with the Seoul High Court, despite repeated requests by both courts for her to testify.
Under South Korean law, an alleged victim of sexual violence does not have to testify in front of her alleged attacker. A person can be convicted of a crime in South Korea even if his or her accuser does not testify, as long as judges decide there is enough evidence to support the charges.
But the status of forces agreement between the U.S. and South Korea attempts to give servicemembers the same protections they would receive if tried in the U.S. According to the U.S. Forces Korea website, servicemembers have the right under the SOFA “to confront adverse witnesses” in South Korean court.
“All of the rights, however, are interpreted in light of Korean law and practice,” the website says. It further states that U.S. constitutional rights do not apply in South Korean criminal trials.
On Thursday, the High Court panel of judges moved to close the entire hearing during the victim’s testimony until Robinson’s attorney complained that doing so would be a violation of the SOFA. Robinson would also have been required to leave, with a court translator describing to him the woman’s testimony afterward.
Robinson’s case and another highly publicized rape case involving an American sparked protests in South Korea over U.S. military behavior and a perceived bias in favor of U.S. troops embodied in the SOFA.
On Thursday, head judge Kim Ki-jeong said he had heard complaints about the SOFA and now believes South Koreans are justified in feeling “outraged” over the agreement.
“There are indeed numerous problems with the SOFA regulations,” he said.
Kim asked the victim if she would consider testifying in front of Robinson, but she again refused. He also asked if she remembered the September 2011 incident, and she said, yes.
The hearing is set to continue on Monday in another courtroom equipped to allow the victim to testify in a separate room via an audio or television feed.
Correction: References in the original story to the "alleged victim" have been changed to reflect the soldier's conviction.