The case of a 15-year-old middle school dropout and runaway, who sold herself to five adults on separate occasions in September last year, highlights the problem.The ruling itself, which ignored the position that the runaway was in, was eyebrow-raising at the time (a youth protection law had been passed in 2000 which allowed for up to three years in prison for those buying sex from minors), but the fact that the age of consent was said to be 13 I found to be shocking. Well, history has repeated itself - On Wednesday the Korea Times published an article titled 'Sex With Minor Not Crime If Not Forced':
The five adults, who met the girl through an Internet chat room, were indicted earlier this year on "Wonjo Kyoje" charges. Prosecutors said the accused "bought" sex from the girl by providing her with accommodation for a night and some transportation expenses, ranging from 2,000 won to 14,000 won ($1.54-10.75).
However, a Seoul court acquitted the five, drawing a severe backlash from women's rights and minors protection groups. Handing down the not-guilty verdict last Monday, Judge Yoon Nam-geun of the Seoul District Court said that the "deals" between the accused and the girl could not constitute prostitution, as the adults did not intend the one-night accommodation and small amount of transportation expenses to be payment for sex.
In ordinary Wonjo Kyoje cases, an adult offers a girl money for sex. However, in this case, the five accused had sex with the runaway girl with her consent, after she asked them to provide her with accommodation for the night, the court said.
"The purpose of the youth protection law does not lie in restricting love relationships between minors and adults, but in preventing underage sex from becoming a subject of commercial deals," the judge said. "A broadened application of the law can pose a threat to people's freedom of privacy."
The prosecution denounced the ruling, calling it a "male chauvinistic verdict" that disregards minors' vulnerability. Major women's rights groups and other civic organizations issued statements condemning the ruling.
"It is a narrow-minded ruling in this male-dominated society to acquit those who made sport of a runaway girl who had nowhere to go," said WomenLink, a major women's rights group, in a statement. "The accused adults were well aware of the fact that the runaway girl had nowhere to live. It is a more serious crime than ordinary underage prostitution."
Under related laws, those who have sex with minors younger than 13 should be punished, regardless of whether the minors agreed or whether there was a financial deal. However, having sex with minors aged 13 or older, which does not involve financial deals, is not punishable if the minor consents.
Acknowledging the legal loophole, a judge, who asked not to be named, said related laws should be revised to set detailed and stricter criteria for underage prostitution.
A local high court found a 46-year-old man not guilty of having sex with a runaway teenage girl, saying their liaison was neither forced nor in exchange for money. The Busan District Court Wednesday upheld a lower court ruling that acquitted the man, identified as Kim, of charges related to the violation of the law covering the protection of minors.So, again we see the same ruling in a similar case, and again it is said the age of consent is 13. It seems that little has changed in 8 years in this regard, and that the loophole mentioned at the end of the article has not been acknowledged, and laws have not been tightened in regard to underage prostitution. One wonders, also, which would carry a higher penalty: sleeping with someone under 13 without exchanging money, or doing so in exchange for money. In this case, a man paying for sex with an eleven year old girl got only six months in prison (the maximum in regards to underage prostitution is three years), which was considered a harsh punishment.
Kim bought food for the 16-year-old girl, who was wandering near Seoul Station, and allowed her to stay at his home in December 2006. He was indicted for having sex with her while the two lived together for about six months.
"The girl had already been homeless for about two years before meeting Kim, and he did not control her after offering his house as a shelter to her request. So we don’t acknowledge the prosecution’s claim that Kim made the minor (engage in sexual activity) away from her parents’ protection,’’ the court said.
The court also found Kim not guilty of violating the laws governing the protection of adolescents, saying, "They had sex, but she did not demand money and he did not give her money. He provided her with shelter, food and about 20,000 won pocket money, but there is no evidence that the offering was in exchange for sex.’
In Korea, a person is not guilty of any crime for having sex with a minor aged 13 and over unless it is paid for or forced. Sex with those under the age of 13 is punishable even if it is carried out under mutual consent.
This ruling is also problematic considering, according to this article, the fact that more teens are selling sex to make ends meet:
The prolonged economic slump is driving more teenagers out on the streets to sell sex, the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs said Thursday. The ministry's Central Inspection Bureau enforced a crackdown on the online teenage sex trade between July and December last year and found the number of teenagers caught nearly doubled to 69 from 36 six months ago. [...]In light of the most recent ruling regarding the runaway teen, this story is disturbing:
While prostitution stemmed mostly out of curiosity six months ago, this time, teenagers have to sell sex "to make ends meet,'' Park said. About 44 percent said they needed the money to make a living while 38.2 percent did it to get cash for entertainment.
About 74.5 percent of teenagers caught said they were paid more than 100,000 won ($75) per assignment, more than they could have made at ordinary jobs. "It shows that teenagers are easily lured by the amount of money they can make amid the economic downturn,'' Park said.
Others sold sex for shelter, according to the report. A 23-year-old Kim had sex with a 15-year-old Park and after learning that she'd run away from home and didn't have a place to stay, kept her at his house for nine months and forced her to sleep with two other men for money. Park said she was sexually abused by the man but could not resist because she was afraid of being thrown out.So, a third of the runaways 'caught' by the bureau were selling sex. Considering what a vulnerable position many of these young runaways are in, the ruling in 2001 was disappointing; the fact that an almost identical ruling has been made eight years later is even more so.
Bureau chief Park said economic hardship is harming families and more teenagers are running away from home and getting involved in such activities. Moreover, those who run away from home once are more likely to run away again after being sent home, she said.
"Experts say it is very difficult to get a girl who has sold sex to more than 100 men to go back to ordinary schoolgirl life. The government should pay attention to returning teenagers who have just ran away from home through counseling and therapy,'' she said.
The bureau has caught 193 runaway teenagers, 69 of whom were involved in prostitution, along with 47 adults who paid for sex with them. The bureau has also apprehended three pimps and owners of 56 brothels employing teenagers.