written by gkim
- Abolition laws against the sex industry of Korea were all enacted in the 1900’s. Before then, there were no legal restrictions on the industry.
- In the 1920’s, juvenile sexual services were made illegal.
- In the 1940’s, sexual services of the elderly/seniors were made illegal.
- In the 1960’s the “Yula” law was enacted. This law had a moral connotation. It stated that the sellers, buyers, and mediators of sex were all corrupt. This “yula” law was enacted in 1961. Before this law, there was no law which criminalized prostitution.
- Back when Korea was taken over by Japanese Imperialism, the Korean government was promoting prostitution. The government became the pimps. Additionally, when the US soldiers came to the aid of South Korea during the Korean War, although the national promotion of prostitution was abolished, they began to promote it around the US army camp bases. Subsequently, the Korean government started generating a tremendous amount of profit from the sex industry.
- In the 1970’s, simply all forms of prostitution were made illegal.
- After the 1970’s sex tourism packages were marketed with Korean geishas. This became very popular, especially with the Japanese on Jeju Island. Because of the high demand and serious profits, the government prohibited it yet promoted it at the same time.
- In the 1980’s, sex trafficking became a serious issue in Korea. The sex industry was being highly promoted through sex tourism. Pimps began kidnapping girls from residential areas and forcing them into brothels. Despite such activity, the government did nothing to convict the buyers of sex, although once in a while, the traffickers would be criminalized.
- In the early 2000’s, there was a huge change in the famous brothel and red light district areas such as Goonsan, Chungryangri, Jullahdo Goonsan, DaeMyongDong, and GaepoDong. The change happened when there was arson in two of these brothels. In 2000, 5 girls died, and in 2002, 14 girls died. When the police went inside to investigate after the fires were put out, they found that the girls had died because they were locked and chained inside. There was no escape as all the windows were sealed as well. After this, more awareness spread on human trafficking and exploitation. Before these fires, prostitution was widely accepted regardless of the laws in place.
- Consequently, due to the grisly discoveries which were made after the fire incidents, a newly revised, special legislation was passed on prostitution in 2004. This law is the anti-prostitution law (Special Law on Sex Trade 2004) prohibiting the buying and selling of sex. The revisions in this law are widely recognized as being ineffective today. One of these new clauses punishes the procurers or mediators of prostitution or sex trafficking. This clause specifically strengthened punishments, which includes seizing all profits generated through sexual services. The other clause criminalizes trafficking–where girls are subjected to threats, violence, and involuntary sex. Another special clause states that the girls would be recognized as victims, not violators of the law. It is a protection and prevention law. This law also has the purpose of educating the people of the effects of buying and selling sex. Johns can be prosecuted as well as pimps. Previously, the government released pimps if they paid a simple fine. A lot of buyers of sex are still unaware of the revisions and new law. They continue to believe that buying sex is legal.
- Because of the lack of awareness in the Korean society, first time offenders who buy girls for sex are not convicted. They are sent to “john” schools instead. John schools were first founded in 1995 in the US. Korea implemented the John school programs in the 2000’s.
- Once the new anti-prostitution law was enacted in 2004, the largest group of protesters against this law was the group of prostitutes. Many did not understand why they would be criminalized for selling sex when they were voluntarily doing it. They believed that the government was taking away their only source of income. They argue that they are providing services of their own will. Most girls who have been convicted and fined for selling sex have had to return to selling sex illegally in order to pay these fines.
- Currently, the Korean government is discussing the possibility of revising this anti-prostitution law. They are questioning whether or not this law violates human rights. Korea is a nation of liberal democracy. So if someone’s freedom does not harm others, how could they view this as wrong? This is their debate against the other side who says that although these girls are not free to sell sex, if they were free to sell sex, this would harm society as a whole. There is social harm in prostitution. These two parties who argue against each other have come to no conclusion.
- Ironically, although sex is illegally sold and is against the law, there is also a law that protects people who have sexually transmitted diseases that were spread via sexual services.
- The current Korean laws are morally grounded. Criminal laws should not have a moral connotation to them. Also the law interprets trafficking and force in a limited sense, apart from what international laws deemed by the UN state. The Korean law states that force is only done physically and with abduction, violence, abuse, or confinement. There is no mental or emotional threat aspect to to it.
- In 2010 and 2013, national surveys were conducted in Korea. The purpose was to find out how the girls got into the industry and how did girls who got out of the industry fare. The findings were rather typical and common, and there was nothing outstanding or surprising. Many of the girls had experienced sexual abuse growing up, came from broken families, ran away from home at a young age, or were abandoned and orphaned.
- Although the selling of sex is illegal, the red light districts, room salons, hostess bars, massage parlors, and in-call services continue to operate in clear view of everyone. Red light districts have signs that warn children from entering. These areas have police stations adjacent to the alleyways. However nothing is done by law enforcement to help or rescue the women, stop the illegal activities, or arrest pimps and johns.