Friday, July 03, 2009

Controversial rulings in teen prostitution cases - eight years apart

Back in July of 2001, a Korea Times article titled "Court Ruling on Underage Prostitution Draws Backlash" looked at a controversial court ruling and contained an interesting fact at the end:
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 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.
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':
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.

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.
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.

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. [...]

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.
In light of the most recent ruling regarding the runaway teen, this story is disturbing:
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.

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.
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.


Anonymous 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" Really? This is the expert opinion? A girl has to sell herself to 100 men before it's "difficult" to "go back to ordinary schoolgirl life."?!

But I suppose that's not really the point, and you've done well to find that old case, and the link between the two cases is so obvious and so painful, you just wish it wasn't reality.

I can't remember exactly where I'm getting this from, but I had thought that it was a (very) commonly-held misconception among Koreans and non-Koreans that the age of consent was 13, whereas the reality was that it's 18, western age, and that it was just that few judges ever enforced it for under 18s. Like I said, I'm not stating that as fact, but I'm sure I heard/read it from somewhere that made me believe it, I wonder if anyone who knows about Korean law could clarify?

What I simply can't get my head around is why so many young girls are doing this, some of the figures you've got there are quite staggering - 56 brothels employing teenagers for one.

Anonymous said...

At age 8 I had the common sense not to sleep with people at all. For her to consent to it, it's completely retarded, but in my opinion it's acceptable. Let the girl pay for her idiocy (or not if she has no problem with having sex with strange men).

It's not the right of these Korean people to uphold pseudo-morals that in fact infringe on basic human rights. Especially if they are protected by Korean law. What do they want the judge to do, decapitate those men for accepting sex?

Anonymous said...

"Acknowledging the legal loophole.."

Is it a loophole? I don't think so, that's how the law is written.

"The bureau has also apprehended three pimps and owners of 56 brothels employing teenagers."

Any word on sentencing? More concerning to me than prostitution is sexual slavery.

Unknown said...

Sorry but I don't see the "criminal" element here. This isn't the west, they have different laws / customs and we can't be "horrified" if its different from our own.

Namely... in Korea the age of consent is 13 period. Sex with a girl under the age of 13 is statutory rape and punishable as such. Girls 13 and over can have sex with whomever they want provided the following (consent is implied)

#1 The sex is non-commercial (not prostitution)
#2 The adult did not take advantage of the child's immaturity to trick the child into sex (similar to laws protecting disabled people).

The legal age for "sexual services" is 19. This means call girls / glass house workers / coffee girls / hostess bars / massage parlors.

That should clear up any misconceptions anyone has. Yes its totally 100% legal for a 40yr old to sleep with a 16yr old, provided it doesn't meet one of the above incidents (although some may argue #2 applies for everyone).

Also... trading money / gifts for a single night at a hotel room could be thought of as prostitution. Having a girl who has left their home (for whatever reason) stay at your home for 6-9+ months isn't. Its the same (legally) as having your 24yr old out of work GF life at your apartment vs living with her parents. And come on guys... the recent girl was living with him for 6+ months, that's a girlfriend not a prostitute.

Now this is all from a moral-neutral point of view. The morality of having such a young and possible immature / vulnerable person live with you and having sexual relations with that girl... that is a different conversation. The point is that morality has ZERO business in legal matters. Morality is too subjective and close to religion to be used for legal decisions.

Sandy Fortune said...

Out of curiosity, are the ages cited western or korean age.

Anonymous said...

As sad as it is, Palladin is dead on target with his comment.

You cannot mix morality and law and shoudl be doubly careful to do when culture is thrown into the mix as well.

We have to really careful not to confuse our values as something that is universal and recognized by all.

On a purely moral angle, the actions of the men can be discussed as reprehensible of course. As a father of a baby girl it makes me cringe to read such stories. But morality CANNOT enter the debate here.

matt said...

To clarify, I found the age of consent shocking because I'd heard for so long that it was 19. Keep in mind that in the 1990s I think Canadas age of consent went from 16 to 14 (or 12, if the other person was 14) which I also thought was quite low. It recently was put back up to 16 due to people considered predators on myspace, etc. finding young girls to sleep with. Considering Korea's internet culture and the fact so much wonjo gyoje is organized online, you'd think more would have been done by now, but in fact the moral crisis surrounding wonjo gyoje between 1998 and 2000 subsided and it seems to have been normalized now - so much so that paid sex with an 11 year old got only one sixth of the (very low) maximum sentence.

There's certainly a difference in the two cases - the first one was more glaring and was noted as so by the prosecution and feminist groups here. I'd agree that the more recent one is less so, but I'm surprised that the age of consent hasn't been raised here, considering, as I mentioned, how much online activity is to be found with men looking to have sex with underaged girls, and how it's routinely stated (even by the police on their website) that the age of consent is actually 19. Also, considering how in the late 1990s how youth sexuality and changing youth behavior (and rising crime, including sex crimes) was discussed as if teens were a virus infecting society, the low age of consent is perplexing - not looked at through a moral lens, but through the discourse in the media surrounding teens at the time (and to a lesser extent now).

Anonymous said...

thanks so much for this interesting article. it's a shame to see the courts undermine Korea's good anti-prostitution law, and I wonder whether it's not a symptom of President Lee's determination to turn the law into a dead letter. Lee has long been a supporter of the sex industry.
in Japan this kind of prostitution of homeless girls has been widely reported recently, and is apparently being mediated through mobile phone networking sites.