Sexual expressions in Korea: sex workers and children hurt by laws protecting them – Berlin IGF 2019

by | Feb 10, 2020 | Free Speech, Open Blog | 0 comments

*This is a summary of Kyoungmi Oh’s speech at an IGF workshop on freedom of speech of sex workers and other vulnerable groups.

Sex work in Korea is criminally banned. Both sellers and purchasers are punished. Others are punished for aiding and abetting. Communications about sex work are completely banned as aiding and abetting the criminal act of prostitution.

All this is done to protect women from the supposed harm of being exploited in the male-dominated society.  Korea is a male-dominated society.  World Economic Forum measured Gender Disparity Index of 125 countries a few years ago and Korea was ranked 106.

The same day the law banning prostitution was passed, a law protecting the victims of prostitution was also passed.  In the law, the definition of victims includes all sex workers including the voluntary workers, not just the victims of sexual trafficking.  The idea is that they are the victims of gender discrimination.  However, the ban on prostitution is hurting them.  And yet the other law punishes these supposed victims of gender oppression.

Now, reality is different from law.  Just as in bigotry of many other Asian countries, prostitution is severely banned in law but easily available in reality. There are more than 300 thousand women who are thus criminals.

Then, What becomes important is whether exsting sex workers can find work safely. Here, Korean Communication Standards Commission the internet censorship body routinely orders deletion and blocking of content advertising sex work.  Women rely on Internet to do work in safe spaces because, just like Uber, women can pinpoint locations and take protective measures.  If online matching is not allowed, they must rely on pimps who can also exploit them.   

Also, child pornography law, designed to protect children, is applied also to animations and cartoons which involve no children.  Police are spending more time in front of computers than raiding child pornography production sites where real children are being exploited.  They do not need to because law is blind to whether featured characters are real or just expressions. Judges are confused because they develop habit of punishing lightly child sex abuse on average because so many animations and cartoons go through the same legal provision. This shows another example of how communication restriction designed to help vulnerable groups are hurting them.  Furthermore, many children are exposed to criminal prosecution for downloading animations and cartoons featuring child characters.    

I believe that communication about sex must be more freely allowed to empower vulnerable groups.


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