[Viewpoint] Take a sharper look at sex laws

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[Viewpoint] Take a sharper look at sex laws

Recent vicious sexual assault crimes in Korea are strengthening calls for the country to reconsider laws that prohibit prostitution, with some saying that implementing a legal, organized framework could actually reduce such horrendous criminal acts.

But this is a dangerous idea.

Sexual assault and prostitution should be clearly separated and addressed differently.

Sexual assault, after all, is a criminal action that violates the rights of another human being to make sexual decisions.

Prostitution, however, more or less involves the idea of voluntary sex for money, though often this issue involves sex trafficking.

Most advanced countries prohibit ownership of places engaged in prostitution or those that assist sex trafficking.

The U.S. government adheres closely to the argument that prostitution and sex trafficking degenerate people to a huge degree.

It is concerned that demand for prostitutes creates a system in which people are treated like slaves in the modern world, forced or coerced to perform sexual acts.

Of course, there are a few exceptions.

Some areas such as Germany, the Netherlands and Australia permit prostitution and brothels.

These countries chose this route as a way to prevent the interference of structured criminal outlets tied to sex trafficking as well as reduce human trafficking in general and improve working conditions for women in the sex business by legalizing prostitution.

Many people say such policies are “realistic alternatives” to a growing problem.

However, that’s not the reality.

Sixty percent of women prostitutes in Germany are illegal immigrants from abroad, according to various statistics.

It is presumed that many entered the country through human trafficking.

The famous red light district in Amsterdam has also been a social problem for a long time due to human trafficking, drugs and murder involving large-scale criminal groups - despite the fact that prostitution there is legal.

In 2006, the Amsterdam City Council essentially shut down a third of the sex shops, but the essence of the problem remains.

In Australia, illegal sex shops rapidly increased after the legalization of prostitution, creating a breeding ground for organized crime and corruption.

In the end, reports that pointed out the failures of policies that legalize prostitution were published in Germany in 2007 and Australia in 2009. These reports shed light on the fact that legalizing the so-called oldest profession on earth doesn’t necessarily make things better.

A recent solution in advanced countries is to punish those who visit prostitutes.

The policy was introduced in Sweden and effectively reduced human trafficking.

Other countries in northern Europe - including Norway, Finland and Iceland - quickly introduced similar policies as well.

Recently, the British government has also been strengthening punishment for, and crackdowns on, attempts to pay for sex.

This has effectively reduced demand and shrunk the size of the sex trafficking industry.

The policies of advanced countries, whether they involved the legalization or the prohibition of prostitution, pursue the same thing: reducing sex trafficking, lessening prostitution and protecting the rights of women involved. The ultimate goal is to eliminate prostitution completely, though that’s a bit far-fetched.

The prostitution prohibition law in Korea seeks the same goal, though the gap between the purpose of the law and reality exists here just like in every country.

The Korean prostitution industry, if you can call it that, used to create a fair share of human trafficking and human rights violations. But the situation has continuously improved since the enactment of the law prohibiting prostitution.

The idea that prostitution should be “a way for men to fulfill their sexual desires,” as some harmlessly claim, is an old-fashioned one.

I strongly believe that prostitution prohibition laws are necessary if Korea really wants to become an advanced country.

At this point - when the prohibition law that took a lot of work to introduce is now starting to show results - the claim that we should turn back the clock would be a major step backwards in time.

We must now break away from the old-fashioned standard of looking at sexual assaults, prostitution and sex trafficking in the exact same light, as we have in the past.

Korea also needs to firmly establish advanced standards on this issue.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is a research fellow at the Korean Women’s Development Institute.

By Lee Mi-jeong
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