Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Korea's age of consent under scrutiny?

[Another update: In this case, where a 17-18 year old high school girl with a 25 year old boyfriend was expelled for being pregnant, her teachers threatened to report him to the police for having sex with a minor. A pretty empty threat, as it turns out, but one both sides appeared to believe was real.]

[Update: There are English language articles in the Korea Herald and Joongang Ilbo, with the latter stating the teacher has been fired.]

[Update below - I found the MBC news piece.]

I was out last night with friends and half-noticed a news item on the TV which showed what I realized too slowly was a list of ages of consent around the world, with Canada at the top (16/14) and then getting lower in age until Korea - but the list disappeared just as I was about to read the age next to Korea. Being at the bottom of the list, I assumed it was 13, which is what has been stated before (see here, and an in-depth look at the Grand Narrative here). I mentioned this to the Korean friend I was with and he told me a case about a married school teacher in Hwagok-dong having sex with her middle school student was all over the internet. It slipped my mind until now, but sure enough, it's in the Korea Times:
A 33-year-old female middle school teacher has been found having inappropriate relationship with one of her pupils. According to Gangseo Police Station in Seoul, the contract female teacher allegedly had sex with a 15-year-old student in her car at an underground park [at Yeongdeungpo Station] last week.

The teacher, who has worked at the school for more than a year, is married and has two children attending elementary schools, police said.

The relationship was revealed by the student’s mother, when she saw a text message between her son and the homeroom teacher.

The mother reported it to the police, but the police said they terminated the investigation as the two had sex under mutual consent and there was therefore no legal grounds to punish the teacher.

The current law punishes only adults having sex with those aged under 13. However, the school plans to fire the teacher for the unethical relationship.
It goes on to say that it's causing a stir on the internet, with her personal information being spread around, and lots of photos like this are appearing in different articles:[Update: This article mentions that the teacher and student were from H Middle School in Hwagok-dong. A search using daum's map turned up two schools beginning with H, and doing a search for the one not named after the neighbourhood quickly turned up a teacher's name, Cyworld page, photos, and an assertion that she was an English teacher. I doubt she'll ever work as a teacher again (though I believe an English village in Daejeon is currently hiring.]

What's really odd is that she is not being punished for having sex with one of her own students, something that would be illegal in, say, Canada, as people in a position of authority are not allowed to have sexual relationships with anyone under their care, even if they are above the age of consent. I'll try to track down that MBC report I saw last night, as it makes clear that the age of consent has been openly announced.


So the MBC report in question is here, and opens with shots of an underground parking garage to help set the scene of the encounter. It describes what happened and stated that the police had stopped the investigation before looking at similar cases in the U.S. and Taiwan (involving female teachers and male students) that resulted in 10 year and 8 month prison sentences. It eventually moves along to this:

Sex with [someone] under 13 - Unconditional punishment
[Sex With a] teen 13 and over - if the sex is consented to, there is no punishment

The next shot shows the chart I mentioned above titled "The sex 'consent age' of various countries." Notice how 'consent age' is in quotations, as if it is a new or foreign idea. The term in Korean (성관계 승낙 나이) is practically the same as the definition mentioned by James in his post, though as he noted it appeared overwhelmingly in reference to changes in Canada's age of consent law in 2008.

The chart lists ages of consent for Canada, Germany, Australia and Finland, almost all of which contradict what can be found on Wikipedia; Canada's is 16, Germany's 14, (there's certainly nothing about a difference between genders), Australia's is 16 or 17, depending on the state, and Poland's Finland's is 15.

MBN's piece on this case also contained this:

Rape or indecent assault/molestation of minors

Article 307 of the penal code:
Sex with a minor under the age of 13 will be punished even if there is consent.

This is to give the healthy sexual development of minors under the age of 13 the protection of the law.
So much for the "healthy sexual development of minors" who are 13 and over, I guess. It's pretty incredible that that is offered as the rationale for protecting those under 13, since a glance at my grade 6 students would make it pretty clear that most of the boys and many of the girls have barely even begun puberty.

Some things to note while I think of it: According to marriage practices of the Joseon era, girls had to be married by the age of 16 or would face a great deal of social pressure to do so, as the single braid they wore marked them as unmarried (just in case unmarried women in their thirties think things are bad today). It might be a bit much to suggest that Korean law regarding sex with minors hasn't moved beyond laws 100 years ago, but with the age of consent as low as it is, who's to say? Also, it would appear that one of the premises of this film is off-base (wherein a female teacher spends some time in jail for seducing one of her high school students). And it's nice to see New Daily taking this seriously (in regard to the photos).

Going back to the MBC piece, and the chart above, I wonder if this is the first time such a discussion of Korea's age of consent - one comparing it with others around the world - has been on the news, especially one stating that Korea's age of consent, at 13, is the "lowest in the world."

I wonder if this will be the news item that pushes changes in the law to occur, though I have to wonder what the reaction would have been had it been a male teacher and female student.


Chris in South Korea said...

Let's try another tack: if you want to have sex with a 13-year-old, zip up your pants and take a cold shower.

Korea, let's just get this straight. Put out the adverts to set the record straight. This is NOT the stuff you want in the media with the G20 coming to town in a month.

F5Waeg said...

It isn't the lowest in the world, not per the graph on the wiki entry for age of consent, although the same graph also lists Korea as 18

matt said...

Set what straight? I've suspected the age of consent might be 13 for years - this is the first time it has been described openly as the 'age of consent.'

It was MBC that said Korea's age of consent was the world's lowest - of course, it also messed up the other countries' ages of consent in its chart.

Andy Baxter said...


This is quite clearly a breach of duty of care, ensuring to the best of your ability that no foreseeable harm comes to the person that you have been entrusted to teach, care for, look after etc etc.

I would say that having sex with a minor who does not have the psychological tools yet to deal with this kind of relationship is engendering the potential for that person to suffer long term harm.

I would also be interested to know whether this ruling means, that say for instance, staff in Korea's psychiatric hospitals can have sex with their patients, so long as it's consensual. This is also something which obviously falls under duty of care.

Anonymous said...

That Kang Shin-who article is screaming for a re-write. Who does he think he is - a journalist?

Ok, starting with the title:

"Female teacher accused of inappropriate relationship"

Much too professional and objective. Let's toss in some wild speculation, hyperbole, inaccurate statistics, fear, and race baiting:

Are Korean teachers' sex crimes against their minor students serious?

It was discovered Monday that another sexual incident between a Korean teacher and a student has occurred.

Hundreds of sexual crimes have been perpetrated by Korean elementary and secondary school in just the last few years, explained an aide of Rep. Choi Young-hee Monday.

A source at the Korea National Police Agency says it is just the tip of the iceberg. An official identified as Kim said: "Public schools in Korea are a heaven for Korean teacher sex criminals whose number are countless." Kim told the Korea Times that unreported crimes out number reported incidents by 100 to 1,000. "Last year for example there was a fourth grader who was gang raped by six Korean teachers in the classroom for three hours. But the girl's family declined to bring charges. This is a pattern for Korean teachers who feel they can do as they please in the classroom."

According to estimates, actual and potential sex crimes, reported or unreported, are occurring at a rate of 351 to 1,752 every day. Meaning on average, students have 3.7 sexual predator Korean teachers in each classroom.

The damage already beyond imagination has shocked civil groups. One commenter, identified only as fly2pastelhanul66 wrote "There are at least 100,000 or 1,000,000 children living as sexual slaves and playthings of Korean teachers".

handsomedreamflava wrote "Their insincere minds and relatively free attitudes toward sex and lack of responsibility has created a situation where these rapes can potentially occur at anytime."

A spokesman for the Korea Union of Teachers issued a statement calling for calm.

Miss Choi Ok-hae of the KUT said, "The situation was one of consensual sexual relations between a student of the age of majority and a teacher, while we don't condone such behavior there is no way this can be viewed as a sex crime."

Another member of KUT was criticized last year when it was discovered that he was passing out what he called "reunification materials" to female elementary students. The materials were called inappropriate.

Civil groups are calling for a congress on the continued student rapes by Korean teachers, while Korean parents are anxious about sending their children to school out of fear of sexual violence. The KNPA are expanding their investigation.

F5Waeg said...

not to be misunderstood, I was directing my criticism towards the writer of the original news article

Anonymous said...

(Oops, site said it was too large to post! Tried to trim it down and post but ended up posting it like 4 times. deleted repeat posts. Apologies.)

matt said...

You'd think there would have been something with which to legally punish her. Perhaps the police goofed and missed something, though it's clear the parents expected something to be done.

I have no idea what exactly the laws are regarding doctors (and other caregivers) and patients, minors or otherwise. One hopes they're stronger than the ones that apparently govern student-teacher relationships.

I imagine you had fun writing that. To be fair to Kang, he gets such criticism because he writes in English, unlike the dozens of others who don't, but write equally sensationalist crap. I'll put up a piece about 'deviant' teachers tomorrow.

F5Waeg: Right - no worries.

Oh, and apologies for the comment problems...

Anonymous said...

It's true that Kang gets criticized since his stuff is in English, and there are much worse reporters out there writing in Korean who get overlooked.

But this recent article shows he actually does know how to write professional, objective journalistic prose on a sensitive subject. I think that makes his other sensationalist stuff all the more blameworthy. He could have done it right if he had wanted to, but choose not to.

Anonymous said...

@ my 1st comment:
"school in just the last few years" >> school teachers in just the last few years

@ my 3rd comment:
"choose" >> chose

Andy Baxter said...


Your average PC Plod, working out of your average Police Box is not well known for being particularly dilligent, hardworking or meticulous in record keeping.

It would be interesting to see, whether on the night, or otherwise, that this incident was reported whether the police on duty adopted the attitude of most of their colleagues. "Too much paperwork, too much trouble".

Maybe they thought that it would just end there, because when the parents thought about it later they would realize how embarrassing it would be if their teenage son's nocturnal habits drew media attention.

I guess that it might be the case that the police wronlgy second guessed these parents.

matt said...

Good point, one I forgot by the time I got to the end of 'your' piece.

We'll have to see if anything else gets brought to light. Hopefully, in light of the laws being passed recently punishing sex crimes against minors more seriously, this will draw attention to the low age of consent. On the other hand, one wonders how much it's taken advantage of. Runaways are certainly at risk, but since - from what's reported - a great deal of sex with minors is paid for (wonjo gyoje), it's already illegal. Hard to know, really.

Anonymous said...

The KT articles on this Korean teacher issue just keep getting better.

The KT now has this to say about the netizens who have invaded the female teacher's privacy:

'Cyber terror' goes wild

"Some netizens are waging a 'cyber terror' campaign against a 35-year-old female middle-school teacher found to have had an inappropriate relationship with a pupil by spreading photos of her and other private information in cyberspace.

Experts are referring to it as a 'witch hunt,' which could destroy the life of the victim, as well as those of her family members, and are urging Internet users to refrain from 'reckless' cyber bashing. They also warn that those spreading personal information of others could face criminal charges.

. . .

'Such cyber terror cannot be justified under any circumstances, even if someone did something wrong. Digging for the personal information of people for defamation and spreading it in cyberspace has become a ‘fun’ game for many young netizens. I think it is possible because they do such things behind a veil of anonymity,' a university professor in Seoul said."

Oh man, this is rich coming from the KT. Anyone remember when Naver got called on Anti-English Spectrum's cyber terror and the KT laughed it off?
Naver's response to the Vandom letter?

Avatar said...

On comparison chart it's written Finland, not Poland.

matt said...

Good point. I'll correct that.