Torsos only for privacy reasons. © Matt Lemon Photography. All Rights Reserved.
Despite a military crackdown on gay servicemen, politicians refusing to enact anti-discrimination legislation, and fundamentalist faith groups engaging in “Homosexuality Countermeasures”, South Korea has just witnessed its biggest-ever queer parade. Korean sex workers’ rights activist Yeoni Kim and others carried a message on their T-shirts that still needs plenty of amplifying, not only but especially in Korea: Queer Sex Workers’ Lives Matter! LGBT 성노동자도 함께 합니다!
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“The ‘Prostitutes Protection Act’, in the form that it will come into effect on July 1, 2017, only pretends to be a law for the protection of sex workers. The regulations provided therein fail to support both sex workers and trafficked persons. Instead, the law will force sex workers into illegality, especially those working together at apartments as well as migrant, trans, and otherwise particularly vulnerable individuals in sex work. What is labelled as protection is in large parts simply a law aimed at repressing sex work.”
“Forced registration – Not with us!” Sex workers and allies demonstrate against the ProstSchG in front of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs in Berlin © 2015 Emy Fem
ICRSE launches Briefing Paper on
Germany’s new ‘Prostitutes Protection Act’
To mark the International Sex Workers’ Day, celebrated each year on June 2nd to commemorate the occupation of the Saint-Nizier Church in Lyon, France, by 100 sex workers in 1975, ICRSE launches a briefing paper titled “Professed Protection, Pointless Provisions – Overview of the German Prostitutes Protection Act (Prostituiertenschutzgesetz – ProstSchG)”.
The briefing paper was developed by ICRSE in collaboration with Hydra e.V. and the Professional Association Erotic and Sexual Services (Berufsverband erotische und sexuelle Dienstleistungen,BesD e.V.). It aims to offer policy makers, sex workers, and sex workers’ allies an analysis of Germany’s new “Prostitutes Protection Act” and its expected impact on sex workers, and…
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Vorgeblicher Schutz, Vergebliche Maßnahmen: Überblick über Deutschland’s neues Prostituiertenschutzgesetz (ProstSchg)
„Das ‚Prostituiertenschutzgesetz‘ ist in der Form, in der es am 1. Juli 2017 in Kraft treten wird, nur vorgeblich ein Gesetz zum Schutz von Sexarbeiter*innen und die darin enthaltenen Maßnahmen sind vergeblich, um Sexarbeiter*innen auf der einen Seite und Betroffene von Menschenhandel auf der anderen nachhaltig zu unterstützen. Stattdessen werden insbesondere in Wohnungen gemeinsam arbeitende Sexarbeiter*innen sowie migrantische, transidente, und anderweitig spezifisch vulnerable Sexarbeiter*innen von diesem Gesetz in die Illegalität gedrängt. Wo Schutz draufsteht, ist daher in großen Teilen schlicht ein Gesetz zur Verdrängung der Sexarbeit enthalten.“
Sexarbeiter*innen und Unterstützer*innen demonstrieren gegen das ProstSchG vor dem Bundesfamilienministerium © 2015 Emy Fem
ICRSE präsentiert Briefing Paper über
neues deutsches ‘Prostituiertenschutzgesetz’
Anlässlich des Internationalen Hurentags, der an jedem 2. Juni der Besetzung der Saint-Nizier-Kirche im franzöischen Lyon im Jahr 1975 durch 100 Sexarbeiterinnen feierlich gedenkt, präsentiert das Internationale Komitee für die Rechte von Sexarbeiter*innen in Europa (ICRSE) ein Briefing Paper mit dem Titel „Vorgeblicher Schutz, Vergebliche Maßnahmen: Überblick über das Prostituiertenschutzgesetz (ProstSchg)“.
Das Briefing Paper wurde vom ICRSE in Zusammenarbeit mit Hydra e.V. und dem Berufsverband erotische und sexuelle Dienstleistungen (BesD) e.V. mit dem Ziel entwickelt, sowohl politischen Entscheidungsträger*innen als auch Sexarbeiter*innen und ihren Unterstützer*innen eine Analyse des neuen deutschen „Prostituiertenschutzgesetzes“ und dessen erwarteten Auswirkungen auf Sexarbeiter*innen anzubieten, sowie Empfehlungen der Gemeinschaft von Sexarbeiter*innen zu unterbreiten.
Wie darin erklärt, hegt das ICRSE ernsthafte Bedenken hinsichtlich der Art und Weise, mit der das „Prostituiertenschutzgesetz“ die Grundrechte von…
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Nueva Ley de Prostitución en Alemania: una ley especial impracticable y discriminatoria | Declaración de Voice4Sexworkers (Voz para trabajadores sexuales)
“Si no se habla con las trabajadoras sexuales, se termina con el mismo resultado que representa la Ley de Protección de Prostitutas: una ley especial impracticable y discriminatoria, que nos excluye de la participación en términos de igualdad en la vida económica y nos vuelve socialmente vulnerables.”
Foto: Parodia del registro de prostitutas en una protesta de trabajadoras sexuales en Berlín © 2016 Friederike Strack. Todos los derechos reservados.
En el día de hoy, la ministra de Salud de Rhin Norte-Westfalia, Barbara Steffens, y la presidenta de la Mesa Redonda sobre la Prostitución de Rhin Norte-Westfalia, Claudia Zimmermann-Schwartz, dieron una conferencia de prensa acerca de la planeada Ley de Protección de Prostitutas, de la que dijeron que llevará aún más a las trabajadoras sexuales a la ilegalidad, en lugar de protegerlas. Como parte del comunicado de prensa, se presentaron las declaraciones de dos trabajadoras sexuales que participaron en la Mesa Redonda. Lo que sigue es la declaración ampliada de una de ellas, traducida del original en alemán publicado por Voice4Sexworkers. Hacer clic, por favor, aquí para ver el comunicado de prensa emitido por el Ministerio de Salud, Igualdad, Servicios Sociales y Personas Mayores en Rhin Norte-Westfalia…
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Photo: Mock Whore ID at sex worker protest in Berlin © 2016 Friederike Strack. All Rights Reserved.
Today, North-Rhine Westphalian Health Minister Barbara Steffens and Claudia Zimmermann-Schwartz, Chairwoman of the Roundtable Prostitution in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), held a press conference about the planned Prostitutes Protection Law (ProstSchG), which they argued would further drive sex workers into illegality instead of protecting them. As part of the press release, statements from two sex workers who participated in the Roundtable were presented.The following is an expanded statement from one of them, translated from the German original published by Voice4Sexworkers. Please clickhereto view the press release by the Ministry of Health, Equalities, Care and Ageing (MGEPA) in NRW. This resource is in German.
Statement by Melanie, Participant at Roundtable Prostitution
I’m a single mother of two and I’ve been working as a sex worker for the past ten years. I’ve never been able…
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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
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.
Constitutional Court in South Korea Uphold Anti-Sex Work Laws | Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP)
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.
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.
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!”
Film still from Grace Period (2015). Courtesy of Caroline Key and Kim KyungMook.
By YuJin, Popho E.S. Bark-Yi, and Matthias Lehmann
South Korea introduced a raft of new laws against sex work in 2004. These repressive policies are now up for constitutional review due to the intense reaction by sex workers there.
First-time visitors to South Korea may easily assume that selling sex is legal there, as major train stations are typically engulfed by an array of neon signs inviting patrons to enter massage parlors, noraebangs (lit. a ‘singing room’, essentially the same as a Japanese karaoke bar), and brothels. Media reports frequently quote statistics about the alleged net worth of the South Korean sex industry. However, laws repressing sex work are almost as ubiquitous as commercial sex venues themselves, particularly after 2004, when South Korea adopted the anti-sex trade Laws.
Between 2000 and 2002, a series of fires in Korea killed 24 sex workers, exposing the poor conditions in parts of its sex industry. In response, the government vowed to eradicate prostitution and embarked on an aggressive campaign against businesses facilitating it. Riding the wave of public outrage, women’s rights activists campaigned for a legal reform and their proposals eventually served as blueprints for the two-tiered anti-sex trade laws, which criminalise both buyers and sellers of sexual acts, except for anyone coerced into selling sex.
The new legislation reversed decades of de facto toleration of sex work by regulators and law enforcement. The anti-sex trade laws of 2004 replaced the Law Against Morally Depraved Behaviors (prostitution) of 1961, which wasn’t enforced homogeneously, and previously, even the government had actively engaged in organising commercial sex venues to cater to US military personnel stationed on the Korean peninsula.
The anti-sex trade laws have caused many negative, allegedly unintended consequences. According to a 2012 UN report, “police crackdowns from 2004-2009 resulted in [the] arrest of approximately 28,000 sex workers, 150,000 clients, and 27,000 sex business owners”, and 65,621 arrests were reported for 2009 alone. As researcher Sook Yi Oh Kim states, “the average prosecution rate of sex workers is 26.3%, higher than that of sex buyers, and none of the sex workers arrested are treated as victims”. Police crackdowns have led to an overall reduction of red-light districts. Of 69 red-light districts that existed in 2002, 44 remained by 2013. This represented a slight increase from 2007, when a government-commissioned report had located 35.
Police raids are often carried out very violently, and in November 2014, a 24-year old single mother died after jumping out of a motel room to escape arrest by an undercover police officer posing as client. In stark contrast to their usual reporting, most Korean media remained distinctively silent about the case. The continued repression has forced an increasing number of sex workers to work underground, resulting in lower incomes, poorer working conditions, and an increase in violence perpetrated against them. Sex workers worry more about police raids than about screening their clients, an essential measure, as violence or mistreatment from clients are very common. A substantial number migrates to sell sex abroad, at times under exploitative conditions, as they calculate that conditions in Korea threaten them at least to the same extent but yield considerably lower earnings.
Giant Girls and Hanteo against the law
Two organisations actively campaign for the rights of sex workers and against the laws. One is Hanteo, the National Union of Sex Workers, and the other is Giant Girls. Hanteo, which means ‘common ground’, was founded in 2004 and represents 15,000 sex workers as well as some brothel owners. Giant Girls, or GG, was founded in 2009 by a group of feminists along with a number of sex worker activists. GG aims at building a stronger sex worker movement to mobilise against the criminalisation of sex work, in part by working to remove the social stigma attached to sex work.
Yujin started selling sex online five years ago, in order to afford his tuition fees. YuJin self-identifies as a gay sex worker and is a member of GG. Prior to his entrance into the business he had never met anybody who was ‘out’ as a sex worker, and he knew nothing about how to work. Since all aspects of sex work are illegal in Korea, beginners often feel isolated and lack basic work and safety information. Yujin decided to tweet about his experience soon after he started working, which brought him into contact with other sex workers. Like him, these other sex workers did not ‘act immorally to earn easy money’, as the prejudice would have it, but worked hard, albeit without being respected as workers and citizens.
In 2005, sex workers established 29 June as the national day of solidarity with sex workers, coinciding with the date on which the laws were passed. Resistance from sex workers has taken many other forms. Protests organised by Hanteo in 2011 gained worldwide notoriety, as they culminated in dramatic scenes at the Yeondeungpo red-light district in Seoul, where some activists threatened to self-immolate as the confrontation with the police escalated. The events are well documented in the film Grace Period by Caroline Key and KyoungMook Kim.
In 2013, District Court Judge Won Chan Oh submitted a request for a constitutional review of the laws after accepting the argument made by sex worker Jeong Mi Kim that sex work fell under her right to self-determination. Therefore, in sentencing her for selling sex the state had violated article 10 of the Korean constitution, which holds that “all citizens shall be assured of their human worth and dignity and shall have the right to pursue happiness”.
This opened a window for a phase of much more intense sex worker activism. In April 2015, sex workers and activists staged a protest in front of the constitutional court where a public hearing was held as part of the review. They submitted a petition signed by nearly 900 sex workers arguing that the government had no right to “use criminal punishment to discourage voluntary sex among adults”. The following June, GG organised a forum to draw further attention to the fact that “these laws are not simply laws that aim to punish buyers and sellers of sexual services, but have far wider implications … encompass[ing] social issues including sexual morality, sexual self-determination, and the right to choose one’s vocation”.
Sex worker activist Yeoni Kim once said in an interview with Matthias (one of the present authors) that, “the Swedish model is terrible, violates sex workers’ rights, and adds to the stigmatisation of sex work. But, frankly speaking, one could almost say it would be better to have that terrible law than having to continue fearing arrests and police violence under the anti-sex trade laws.” Hearing one of the most seasoned Korean sex worker activists prefer a slightly less terrible law over another should put all talk about ‘choice’ and ‘agency’ into perspective.
In September 2015, Hanteo staged a larger protest in downtown Seoul. Around 1,500 sex workers demanded an end to the government’s repression, shouting slogans and holding up signs in Korean and English that read “Repeal the anti-sex trade laws!”, “we are workers!” or “adopt Amnesty’s declaration!”.
Last year, when the constitutional court struck down the 62-year-old adultery law, it cited “the country’s changing sexual mores and a growing emphasis on individual rights”. Similar logic should govern the decision on the anti-sex trade laws, which is still pending, however some women’s rights and social conservative groups are continuing to stage protests to prevent a decision against the laws, citing fears over human trafficking and minors engaging in sex work.
Migration from Asian countries to South Korea has increased in recent years, and nobody suggests that the country is immune to migrant smuggling or human trafficking. Marriages between comparatively affluent Korean men and poorer southeast Asian women remain common in rural areas, as do the problems arising from illegal practices by marriage brokers or from violence perpetrated by Korean men against their foreign wives, whom they sometimes appear to seek only for reproductive purposes and household or farm labour.
There have also been occurrences of migrants being trafficked into commercial sex venues, but it is crucial to separate human trafficking from consensual adult sex work. Cases of human trafficking or exploitation of migrants have been detected in numerous industries, including in the fishing, agricultural, or manufacturing industries. Migrants of all genders, as well as Korean citizens, are affected by conditions amounting to forced labour. It is therefore disingenuous to suggest that the problem is limited to women who are forced to sell sex, and to thereby disregard the experiences of trafficked persons and migrants in other industries, which include sexualised violence.
We are opposed to any form of violence. Sex and sexualised violence, however, are not the same. Consensual sadomasochistic sexual practices and actual violence are different, just as consensual sex work and being trafficked into the sex industry are different. People may choose to engage in sex work because they experience stigma as single mothers or due to their sexual orientation, or if other factors limit their options on the formal labour market.
Sex work itself is not violence and to suggest otherwise dilutes the meaning of violence. If we really want to curb human trafficking, we have to address the systemic circumstances that marginalise people and render them vulnerable. As sex workers’ rights activists, we have a stake in seeing human trafficking effectively addressed. The battle slogan ‘prostitution is violence against women’ harms both sex workers and trafficked persons as it drives the creation and perpetuation of precisely those failed laws and policies that enable traffickers to prey on vulnerable populations.
About the authors
YuJin self-identifies as a gay sex worker and is a member of Giant Girls, one of two organisations actively campaigning for the rights of sex workers in South Korea.
Popho E.S. Bark-Yi is a feminist researcher and activist in South Korea. Her work focuses on sexuality and on basic income.
Matthias Lehmann is a German researcher and activist, currently focusing on sex work regulations in Germany. His prior research dealt with human rights violations against sex workers in South Korea. He is an active member of ICRSE.
This article was first published by Open Democracy as part of the ‘Sex workers speak: who listens?’ series on Beyond Trafficking and Slavery, generously sponsored by COST Action IS1209 ‘Comparing European Prostitution Policies: Understanding Scales and Cultures of Governance’ (ProsPol). ProsPol is funded by COST. The University of Essex is its Grant Holder Institution. Please note: this article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence. If you have any queries about republishing please contact Open Democracy. Please check individual images for licensing details.