Sex Work and Human Rights

Special

[Photo] Queer Sex Workers’ Lives Matter

[97b] Queen Sex Workers' Lives Matter © Matt Lemon Photography. All Rights Reserved.

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!

Please click here to continue reading.


Event: Korean Sex Workers’ Day 2014

Join Giant Girls and SWASH on Korean Sex Workers’ Day 2014!

What: Presentations, Discussion, Performance!
When: Sunday 29 June 2014 1pm
Where: Alternative Visual Culture Factory i-Gong
2F 330-8 Seogyo-dong Mapo-gu Seoul Korea (121-836)
Entrance fee: ₩5,000
Language: This event is held in Korean and Japanese
Click here to join the event on Facebook

GG Korean Sex Workers Day English Poster 1GG Korean Sex Workers Day English Poster 2

June 29th Korean Sex Workers’ Day

On this day, the National Solidarity of Sex Workers Day was organized, after the Special Anti-Sex Trade Law [which includes a Prevention Act and a Punishment Act] was passed in 2004. Since then, we commemorate this day as Sex Workers Day to honour all sex workers who have contributed to the struggle against discrimination over the years.


Pinned Post: Copyright Notice

“Receiving credit for an image we created is a given, not compensation, and credit is not a substitute for payment.” – Tony Wu, Photographer

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.Credit is also not a substitute for asking for permission to use an image. Unfortunately, there have been several cases of photos from this or my other blogs being used elsewhere without my express permission. All photos published on this blog or on my Facebook pages or Twitter account are my own unless credited otherwise. Upon request, I may grant permission to use them but ask for credit to be given as ‘Matthias Lehmann/Matt Lemon Photography’. Once you publish my photos or videos on your blog or website, I expect you to share the link with me. Especially if you wish to use any of my photos in commercial or print publications, you must contact me prior to doing so. Before contacting me, I recommend reading Tony Wu’s Reasons Why Professional Photographers Cannot Work for Free.

All permissions are given for non-profit use only. I retain all rights of my photography and videography work. The use of Yeoni Kim’s photos on this blog is prohibited. If you wish to use them, please contact me to facilitate communication with her. Unless credited otherwise, all other photos on this blog are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. The above also applies for any use of text from this blog, should you wish to use any part or entire entries elsewhere: if a text is marked as not falling under the Creative Commons License, anyone wishing to republish it is expected to request permission from the respective copyright holders. If they cannot reach them, please contact me to facilitate communication with them.


Jasmine and Dora 4-Ever

End Violence Against Sex Workers

This video chronicles the efforts of sex worker communities and their allies to memorialise Dora Özer and Petite Jasmine. Dora was a 24-year-old trans sex worker in Turkey, Jasmine was a 27-year-old sex worker in Sweden. Both were murdered in a matter of days in July 2013.

This video is launched at a time when the European Parliament debates about and votes on whether to recommend EU member states to criminalise the clients of sex workers and the buying of sexual services. This system is known as the Swedish Model, which numerous studies, e.g. by member organisations of the United Nations or the World Health Organisation, have found to have serious consequences for the health and safety of sex workers.

“Laws that criminalize sex work and the sex industry should be reviewed, taking into account the adverse impact of these laws on public health and the human rights of sex workers. To enable sex workers to fully enjoy legal rights to health and safety at work requires decriminalization. Decriminalization of sex work requires the repeal of: a. laws explicitly criminalizing sex work or clients of sex workers…” – UNAIDS, UNDP, UNFPA. “Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific” (UNDP, 2012)

The “criminalization of sex work contributes to an environment, in which violence against sex workers is tolerated, leaving them less likely to be protected from it”. – WHO “Violence against sex workers and HIV prevention” Information Bulletin Series, Number 3 (2005)

In the aftermath of the murders of Dora and Jasmine, sex workers and allies organised protests in front of Swedish and Turkish embassies in 36 cities on 4 continents. The video includes impressions from these protests as well as an interview with Petite Jasmine by Carol Leigh and Pye Jakobsson during the 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington.

“Often when I talk about what I think is important, that people who sell sex should be accepted and have a place in society like everybody else, there are many that say that it would never be accepted by society. But it wasn’t long ago that people said the same thing about unwed mothers, gays, transsexuals – pretty much everyone that was outside this frame of normality. I think, if we all tried real hard not to discriminate, like we have done with other minorities, things will develop pretty fast, like it has with other groups. That’s what I believe in.” – Eva Marree Smith Kullander (Petite Jasmine)


For further information, please click here to visit the official website for the “International Day of Protest to End Violence Against Sex Workers – In memoriam of Jasmine and Dora”. The protests were coordinated by the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE).

To view a photo album about the global protests for Jasmine and Dora, please click here.

This video was posted with kind permission from Carol Leigh. For further details, please click here to view the video and a statement by Carol Leigh on Vimeo.


(Im)moral Authority

Following a report in news magazine DER SPIEGEL, Alice Schwarzer, Germany’s leading anti-prostitution activist and advocate of the Swedish Model, admits to tax evasion, then accuses DER SPIEGEL of “character assassination”. Click here to read more.

(Un)Moralapostolin: Nachdem DER SPIEGEL berichtete, dass die führende Prostitutionsgegnerin systematisch Steuern hinterzog, gibt Alice Schwarzer dies zunächst zu, nur um dann den SPIEGEL des Rufmords zu bezichtigen. Hier weiterlesen.


Ineffective and in dire need of reform: South Korea’s Anti-Sex Trade Law

“The biggest contributor to pushing sex work underground are the authorities.” A banner – previously used at the press conference by the Hanteo National Union of Sex Workers – hangs forlorn between two brothels in Yeongdeungpo, Seoul, as the red light district is closed on Korean Sex Workers’ Day 2012. (Photo by Matthias Lehmann)

Report on Public Opinion of Anti-Trade Sex Law

Hyundai Research Institute LogoIn 2011, the Hyundai Research Institute published the findings of a survey commissioned by the Hanteo National Union of Sex Workers. It examined “the changes in public opinions on sex trade after the enactment of the Anti-Trade Sex Law” in South Korea based on interviews with 1,000 adults from different age groups and all walks of life in a nationwide telephone survey.

The report, a copy of which I had received by Hyun Joon KANG, Director-General of Hanteo, has now been translated into English from the Korean original by Yeon Ju OH, Research Fellow at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Yeon Ju OH is a co-editor of Cyberfeminism 2.0 and has been researching women in technology, the relationship between gender and new media technologies, and feminist knowledge production. Her interests include the transnationalisation of feminist knowledge.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Ms Oh who volunteered to translate the report to make it accessible to a wider audience and help to further a better knowledge exchange between the global south and north.

Please click here to download the translated report incl. annotated tables in English. Click here, if you wish to download a scanned version of the original report in Korean.

South Korean Model: The Anti-Trade Sex Law

In September 2000, the notorious Gunsan Brothel Fire killed five women who had been held captive. Their tragic deaths exposed the conditions in Korea’s sex industry and triggered a campaign by women’s rights activists to reform the country’s prostitution laws. Their proposals became the blueprint for the Special Laws on Sex Trade (성매매 특별법, Seongmaemae tteukbyeol beob), enacted in 2004, which include a Protection and Prevention Act and a Punishment Act, which penalises both buyers and sellers of sexual acts with up to one year in prison or fines up to 3 million won (approx. £1,715/€2,075/$2,825), except for those who were coerced into selling sex. Those who force others to sell sex are subject to up to 10 years in prison or fines of up to 100 million won (approx. £57,000/€70,000/$94,000).

The Anti-Sex Trade Law of 2004 replaced the Law Against Morally Depraved Behaviours (Prostitution) of 1961  (윤락행위등방지법, Yullak haengui deung bangji beob). Interestingly, the new law replaced the term “prostitution” (윤락) with “sex trade/sex trafficking” (성매매) as the former was found to imply the “moral corruption of the engaged women” while the latter was deemed to be neutral in value. What this illustrates, however, is the law’s disregard of sex work as an act of self-determination and the definition of transactional sex, i.e. the receipt of monetary or other material benefits in exchange for sexual acts, as inherently exploitative.

By passing the Anti-Sex Trade Law, the government vowed to eliminate prostitution and protect victims of exploitation and violence in the sex industry, drawing inspiration from the so-called Swedish Model that criminalises the buyers of sexual acts. Although representatives of the Swedish government continue to claim that the law successfully reduced prostitution and human trafficking, a 2011 report by the Swedish police found that between 2008 and 2010, all those criminal offences the Sex Purchase Act from 1999 was supposed to tackle had actually increased, including a number of human trafficking offences, the purchase of sexual services and even the purchase of sex acts with children. In November 2013, Equality Minister Maria Arnholm voiced her concern that “prostitution in Sweden today is more affected by trafficking, compared to seven years ago” and announced to further examine the effects of Sweden’s prostitution law.

The Ministry of Gender Equality celebrated the Anti-Sex Trade Law legislation as a milestone achievement that would “vigorously strengthen the protection of the human rights of women in prostitution”. However, others criticised the legislation’s discriminatory attitude towards sex workers, who remain criminalised unless they claim to be victims. This “distinction between victims and those who [voluntarily] sell sex is actually one between protection and punishment” and categorises women into “good women who are worthy of help” and “bad ones who need to be punished”, thus continuing the stigmatisation of women who sell sex.

Challenges of the Anti-Sex Trade Law

In June 2006, the Korean Constitutional Court ruled 8:1 to uphold the law in the “So-called Brothel Building Provider Case”. A complainant who owned buildings in a red light district had argued that since his properties could not be leased out for any purpose other than brothels, regulating and punishing the leasing out as thus excessively infringed upon his right to property. The judges dismissed his complaint arguing that “the public good that may be achieved by preventing the deep-seated abuse and infringement of human rights of sexual traffic in the brothel area, and ultimately closing down the brothel area itself” was of greater importance “than the short term private losses suffered by the complainant”.

In January 2013, Criminal Law Judge OH Won Chan from the District Court in Northern Seoul accepted the request of a 41-year-old sex worker, surnamed Kim, for the legal examination of the Anti-Sex Trade Law and referred the case to the Constitutional Court for judgement. Kim had been fined 500,000 won (approx. £285/€345/$470) for selling sex in violation of the laws. The request is based on the premise that in the absence of coercion or exploitation, sex work should fall within an individual’s right to self-determination and that adults have the right to engage in consensual sexual acts without the state’s interference.

Korean legal experts appear to agree with that notion. According to HAN Sang Hee, professor at Konkuk University Law School in Seoul, “the policy approach to sex work in South Korea has centred on regulation [punishment], viewing it simply as an ‘evil’. The significance of this constitutionality review request is that it positions sex work as a matter of women’s rights and provides a starting point for a debate on expanding women’s rights to self-determination.” And according to HOH Il Tae, professor at Dong-A University Law School in Seoul, “criminal punishment should be a last resort. The state needs to refrain from interfering in personal matters that do not involve sexual acts with minors. The responsibility of the state is to monitor, protect, and/or provide appropriate education for the women who engage in sex work to earn money and the men who purchase their services.”

Public Opinion: An ineffective law in dire need of reform

The survey by the Hyundai Research Institute revealed that 23.2% of respondents believed sex trade* had increased since the enactment of Anti-Sex Trade Law, while 8.9% thought it had declined. The highest percentage (49.9%) thought the law had made “no difference”. While 29.3% of the respondents thought, the abolition of red-light districts had a positive impact on efforts to eradicate sex trade, in most respondent groups, the percentage of those who felt it had neither a positive nor a negative impact was higher. In addition, 58.8% believed that covert sex trade had increased since the enactment of the Anti-Sex Trade Law, while 7.4% said it had decreased (No difference: 24.9%). 46.1% of respondents answered that the number of sex workers travelling to work abroad had increased since the enactment of law, while 3.3% said the number had decreased. (No difference: 21.3%, Do not know/Unanswered: 29.3%)

These answers clearly indicate that the majority of respondents did not view the implementation of the Anti-Sex Trade Law as effective in reducing sex trade. It comes as no surprise then that 39.6% of the respondents did not agree that the law had been implemented in accordance with its original purpose and that 73.3% said the law should be reformed, mirroring what sex workers in South Korea have been campaigning for ever since the law was introduced. The constitutionality review of the Anti-Sex Trade Law was scheduled to conclude six months after the submission of the request. A year on, however, no decision has been announced and the persecution of sex workers continues.

*These passages are quoted and paraphrased from the English translation of the report. As mentioned above, the term “성매매 (seongmaemae)” can be translated as either “sex trade” or “sex trafficking”. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family uses the translation “sexual traffic”.

Recommended Reading

1. Jordan, Ann “The Swedish Law to Criminalize Clients: A failed experiment in social engineering”
2. Dodillet; Östergren “The Swedish Sex Purchase Act: Claimed Success and Documented Effects”
3. Swedish National Police Board – “Trafficking in humanbeings for sexual andother purposes”
4. Lyon, Wendy “Sex trafficking in Sweden, according to the Swedish police”
5. Lehmann, Matthias “Criminalising the payment for sexual services”
6. The Hankyoreh – “Judge seeks constitutional review of law that criminalizes prostitution”


Presentation at the Urania

Symposium at the Urania © Andrew Levine

Symposium at the Urania © Andrew Levine

“Facts and Figures about Prostitution that might surprise you”

To view this post in German, please click here.

On December 9th, 2013, an event was held at the Urania Berlin with the title “I thought it was all different! – Facts and Figures instead of Black-And-White-Thinking”. Its goal was to allow politicians, the general public and those affected by potential changes to the German Prostitution Act a comprehensive insight into the subject matter. The event was organised by Felicitas Schirow, since 1997 owner of the brothel “Café Pssst!” in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Berlin. The decision by the Berlin Administrative Court on December 1st, 2000, to declare the withdrawal of her pub license as unlawful is widely seen as precedent that triggered the adoption of the German Prostitution Act that came into effect on January 1st, 2002.

Among the panellists were Percy MacLean, retired Chief Judge at the Berlin Administrative Court and recipient of the 2004 Carl von Ossietzky Medal by the International League for Human Rights (ILHR); Heike Rudat, Director of the unit dealing with organised crime at the Berlin State Office of Criminal Investigation (LKA); criminologist Prof. emer. Dr. Monika Frommel, former director of the Institute of Sanction Law and Criminology at the University of Kiel; Ilona Hengst, a social worker with 25 years of experience working with sex workers, who previously held positions at several district offices in Berlin; Gesine Agena, newly appointed spokeswoman for women’s rights and member of the federal board of the German Greens; Evrim Sommer, spokeswoman for women’s rights and member of the Berlin parliament for the Left Party (Linkspartei); and sociologist Christiane Howe from the Institute for Social Studies at Humboldt University Berlin.

I had the honour to join this impressive panel to speak about the effects of prostitution and anti-trafficking laws on sex workers’ human rights, with a focus on Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

Among other topics, my presentation dealt with the recent raids in Soho, Central London, the findings of the UN report “Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific” and the demonstrated negative effects of the much-discussed sex purchase ban in Sweden.

Lecture Manuscript

Since several guests approached me after the event with the request for a copy of my lecture manuscript, I subsequently made it available. Please click here to retrieve the manuscript in English translation as a PDF file.

copyrightPlease note: This manuscript must not be cited or otherwise publicised without express permission by the author. Although several authors as well as titles of cited sources are mentioned in the text, it contains no links or a bibliography as customary for academic articles. In addition, not all quotes are highlighted as such.

The text includes passages from press releases by the English Collective of Prostitutes and the Sex Worker Open University. Should you wish to cite this transcript or encounter difficulties to locate the respective sources, please send an email to Matthias Lehmann at yongsagisa[at]gmail[punkt]com.