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Korean Lawmaker Fights to Raise Consent Age

Main conference room of South korean national assembly building

Kim Seung-hee, a lawmaker from South Korea’s ruling Saenuri Party, is backing a bill to increase the statutory rape age in Korea from 13 to 16. She hopes that raising the age of consent will help combat child trafficking of minors, which has been on a five-year rise

According to the Korean Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, the reported number of sex trafficking victims doubled between 2011 and 2014, with 48% of victims between the ages of 13 and 15. The average age of the victims was 14.8 years old; nearly half of known victims of sex trafficking in Korea are middle school students.

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“Prostitution among teenagers is committed by teenagers who are unable to make the right decisions due to domestic violence and sexual assault," Kim said. Kim pointed out that the legal working age in Korea is 15; therefore, children who run away from abusive home situations are unable to provide for themselves financially. Representative Kim also noted, “In other advanced nations such as the U.S. and the European states, despite their relatively liberal ideas regarding sex, the minimum protected age for the sex trade is 16.”

Spending on the sex industry is reaching new highs in Korea; in 2013, business spending reached over $1 billion, an issue that goes widely unreported or prosecuted, though prostitution is illegal. During the previous administration, President Lee Myung-Bak denied legislation that would have required businesses to account for entertainment spending exceeding 500,000 won (about $450).

Research conducted by the Korean Women’s Development Institute indicates that prostitution amounts to approximately 1.6 percent of Korea’s GDP, or 13 billion US dollars. When we compare this figure to that of America’s, which is currently estimated to be 14 billion dollars, or less than 0.1 percent of its GDP, we see that an average Korean man spends 16 times more than their American counterparts on sexual services. About 49 Korean men out of 100 are predicted to have had used some sort of sexual service, despite the fact that prostitution is illegal in Korea.

Korean businesses are not being held accountable for their role in perpetrating illegal activities that exploit vulnerable young girls, aided by the current consent law, which exists to protect and enable businessmen who engage in pedophilic rape.

Another effect of the consent law has been the dismissal of statutory rape cases involving adults and teenagers. In 2011, outrage ensued when a 45-year old entertainment industry CEO identified as Mr. Cho was declared not guilty of raping a 15 year-old schoolgirl, whom he impregnated. A love letter written by the middle school girl was used in court as evidence of consent.

More recently, advocacy group Stand Up for Sex Trafficking of Minors protested a court ruling that cleared 6 adult men of raping a mentally disabled 15 year-old girl. The Seoul Western District Court ruled that the minor was not a “victim” as she voluntarily engaged in sexual activity with adults. The court instead treated the case as illegal prostitution, despite her intellectual disabilities, which placed her at the cognitive level of a 7-year-old.

The language of the consent law reads like spin; according to Section 305 of the Criminal Law of the Republic of Korea, a person who engages in sexual intercourse with a minor who did not yet and will not turn the age of 13 in the year the event has occurred is guilty of rape and shall be fined and or punished by penal labor for the duration that exceeds 3 years. It is framed as though it is intended to protect adolescents from sexual exploitation.

If we look at this law conversely and read the implied subtext, we see what it is actually saying: legal protection from sexual exploitation, rape, and assault ends as soon as a child becomes 13. Why does Korea consider a 13-year-old incapable of driving, voting, consuming alcohol, or working legally, but capable of making informed consensual decisions about sex? It is clear this law exists to protect men, and absolutely does not protect vulnerable children.

Let’s be honest: older men hold both physical and class power over young girls, and this power dynamic negates true consent. Children are never to blame for their rape. If Kim Seung-hee’s proposed legislation to raise the age of consent to 16 passes, it would be an important victory in the struggle to combat child sex trafficking. Her proposed legislation is a prime example of why women are so necessary in positions of power.

Photo Source: Wikipedia

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Myra Pearson is a freelance writer and poet from Blacksburg, Virginia. She resides in Seoul, Korea, where she teaches at Duksung Woman's University. he is the editor of Period Magazine, a non-profit zine for women in the literary and visual arts. Her poetry has been published in various literary journals and her first book of poems is forthcoming. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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