Sex Work and Human Rights

Please show your support for South Korean sex workers

Jang Sehee in front of the Constitution Court, April 2015 - Photo © Research Project Korea. All Rights Reserved.

Photo: Jang Sehee in front of the Constitutional Court, April 2015
© Research Project Korea. All Rights Reserved.

Constitutional Court rules ban on sex work constitutional

Yesterday, after over two years of deliberations and hearings, during at least one of which German news magazine DER SPIEGEL’s grossly inaccurate report about sex work in Germany was cited as “evidence”, the South Korean Constitutional Court issued its ruling on the constitutionality of the Anti-Sex Trade Laws, which criminalise all aspects of sex work. A majority of six of the nine judges ruled in favour of upholding the laws; two opposed the criminalisation of sex workers and advocated a Swedish Model-type legislation; and just one, Justice 조용호 Cho Yong Ho, opposed the constitutionality of the law entirely. In his dissent, he wrote,“The majority view insists that prostitution should not be protected by law because it harms human dignity. But nothing harms human dignity more than a threat to survival.”

After the ruling, 강현준 Kang Hyun-Joon and 장세희 Jang Sehee, director and vice director of 한터 Hanteo, the National Union of Sex Workers, spoke to the media. Kang stated, “Since the enforcement of the anti-prostitution law, sex labourers have struggled [for their rights]. The decision will push workers once again to death.” Jang said, “Aren’t we part of the Korean people? They have no consideration for us. We are not giving up the fight for our livelihood. We are people and workers just the same. We will not surrender to this ruling but will form a sex workers union and go all the way to the United Nations.” As Kang explained, Hanteo plans to make an appeal to the UN Commission on Human Rights

Unsurprisingly and callously, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family as well as the Korean Women Lawyers Association have welcomed the decision. On a positive note, however, the media reported about a recent survey among 538 people above the age of 19, which – at least to my knowledge – produced the first-ever majority in favour of scrapping South Korea’s repressive anti-sex work laws. Needless to say, there was a big gender gap. About 6 out of ten men were in favour, but less than 4 out of ten women agreed with them.

Selected media coverage

South Korean Court Upholds Ban on Prostitution | Choe Sang Hun | New York Times

Please note: The petition for a constitutional review was filed by sex worker Kim Jeong-mi, but it was Judge Oh Won Chan of the Northern District Court in Seoul who then filed the actual request to the Constitutional Court.

Court rules ban on prostitution constitutional | Ock Hyun Ju | Korea Herald

Punishing voluntary prostitution constitutional | Kim Bo Eun | Korea Times

South Korea prostitutes decry court ruling, demand right to work | Jee Heun Kahng | Reuters

Constitutional Court in South Korea Uphold Anti-Sex Work Laws | Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP)

논의조차 금기시된 `성매매특별법`에 의미심장한 반론

I also recommend reading a recent piece about South Korea published in the “Sex Workers Speak: Who listens?” series, guest-edited by P.G. Macioti and Giulia Garofalo Geymonat, which was co-authored by gay sex worker Yujin, feminist activist Popho Eun-Sil Park and myself.

South Korea: sex workers fighting the law and law enforcement

Please show your support

After yesterday’s news, we now know that sex workers in South Korea will sadly have to continue their fight for years to come. Therefore, should you happen to use social media, I am sure it would mean a lot if you shared the news about the court’s decision widely and expressed your support for South Korean sex workers. They might not always click Like or Love or reply to you, but they’ll read your messages and appreciate them.

화이팅! Fighting!

Let's repeat the Special Anti-Sex Trade Laws

The writing on the plastic batons Korean sex worker activists often use during their rallies says “Let’s repeal the Special Anti-Sex Trade Laws!”


2 responses

  1. Pingback: Should we accept sex work? | Research Project Korea

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