[Starts at 36:15] Statement by Lucien Lee, a trans* female sex worker activists from South Korea, in response to Amnesty International’s sex work policy decision,* read out by N’jaila Rhee on episode 61 of This Week in Blackness TWiB! AfterDARK.
“This is Lucien Lee from South Korea. I’m a trans woman and at work, I either put on a strap-on and get behind my male clients or receive their penises in me. I’ve been doing this since November 2012. Sex work has given me hope that one day, I will be able to pay for my sex reassignment surgery and lead a life like any other ordinary lesbian. But as it is in the US, sex work is still criminalised in South Korea. If I ever get caught by the police, the fine or bribe I would have to pay would be too much for me. Recently, somebody reported my website, where I advertise my services to potential sex buyers, to the authorities. I was terrified when I got a message from a police officer. The police have never been there for me, like when I was sexually assaulted by a teenager who couldn’t afford to pay for my services. After the incident, I couldn’t go to the police because he threatened to report me for being a prostitute.
I hate everyone who criminalises my work, lets me get raped, and cockblocks my efforts to be a part of the lesbian sisterhood. I’ve been donating monthly to Amnesty for years, and I was thrilled this organisation that has been advocating for all the people in jail who stood up against mandatory military conscription in both Koreas now speaks in favour of all sex workers. I must say, thank you, Amnesty, for having been so brave all these years. Thank you for helping me to help myself. Thank you for protecting me from being raped again. This is Lucien Lee, a godless Seoulite.”
Sex work stigma
If you read any of the articles published in the days before and after Amnesty International’s decision to support decriminalising sex work, e.g. this one by Luca Stevenson and Agata Dziuban, you are now hopefully aware of the immense stigma sex workers are faced with in their everyday lives, affecting not only them but also their families and friends. To a much lesser degree, the stigma can also affect sex workers’ clients, although at worst, they might be faced with ridicule or ostracism, not violent attacks. However, the stigma might well play a role in why clients are rarely seen sacrificing their anonymity to stand up for the rights of sex workers whose services they enjoy. As a researcher, I don’t feel any tangible impact by the stigma attached to sex work research, but I certainly experience my fair share of verbal abuse. Following the Twitter battle before and after Amnesty’s decision, I’ve updated the above peak meter, which I created a couple of years ago, to include the latest labels others have attached to or hurled at me.
This blog post may appear somewhat self-referential but I would actually like to use the labels, good and bad, as vehicles to point readers to several interesting articles, some of which were written by sex workers, others by researchers, not that the two are mutually exclusive, and yet again others by sex worker-exclusionary radical feminists (SWERFs). Please note that the below is by no means intended to compare my experience to the stigma and its consequences faced by sex workers.
[-10] John / Pimp Apologist
Trying to shame sex workers or sex workers’ rights advocates by labelling them “johns” is very common, although it doesn’t really make much sense. After all, if someone believes that consenting adults should be allowed to buy and sell sexual services, being called a “john”, although buying sex carries its own stigma, is pretty much the same as being called a customer, which is hardly an insult.
A prostitution prohibitionist using the pseudonym Stella Marr once called me a “pimp apologist” before later deleting her comment. Although she set her own blog to “private” after she was outed, you can still read her libellous article “Pimps Posing as Sex Worker Activists” at the “Anti-Porn Feminists”-blog, in which she slanders veteran sex worker activists Maxine Doogan, Norma Jean Almodovar and the late Robyn Few, founders of the Erotic Service Provider Legal, Educational and Research Project (ESPLER), the International Sex Worker Foundation for Art, Culture and Education (ISWFACE), and the Sex Workers Outreach Project USA (SWOP-USA) respectively.
[-30] Pornstitutionist / Useless A**hole / Sexist Propagandist
Francois Tremblay, in his own words a “pessimistic feminazi, radical whackjob and antinatalist”, responded to a blog post of mine with one of his own, in which he labelled me a “pornstitutionist”, a term, as he explained, “for people who oppose abolitionism in prostitution and pornography”. His post “The strange connection between pornstitutionists and lying” is still online. He later added a postscript with the above mentioned expletive.
After I had posted a series of memes to mock the Hollywood celebrities who had gullibly believed the false claims by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) and co-signed a letter to oppose Amnesty‘s draft policy, a self-declared radical feminist tweeted that my memes were “sexist propaganda” and that I should quit insulting women’s intelligence – although my post includes memes mocking male celebrities, too. I wouldn’t usually mock spelling mistakes, but, well…
[-50] Sleazeball etc.
All of these are comments left about me underneath a post at the “Anti-Porn Feminists”-blog. To get an idea about the barrage of abuse that sex workers are regularly faced with, please read the Storify entry #whenantisattack, gathered by a group of current and former sex workers to highlight the silencing, shaming, abuse and insults by those who oppose sex work.
[-70] Pimp / Trafficker
In 2013, an Irish-based tabloid re-posted a video that YouTube had previously removed since it violated its terms and conditions. In the video, an undercover reporter of the tabloid filmed and outed a sex worker without her consent. In the comment thread underneath the video, a troll called me both a pimp and a trafficker. While that video was a particularly extreme example, media reports regularly add to the stigma attached to sex work, which is why in December 2014, four South African organisations jointly published “A guide to respectful reporting and writing on sex work”. An article about the guide was published in Open Democracy‘s excellent series Beyond Trafficking and Slavery. To download the complete guide as PDF please click here.
The term “pimp lobby” is frequently used by sex worker-exclusionary radical feminists (SWERFs) to slander “anyone who advocates anything but the full criminalization of sex work”. Apart from watching the video below, I recommend reading “Hanging out in the Pimp Lobby” by Jemima, “Everything You Need To Know About The Pimp Lobby” by Charlotte Shane, and “I Am the Pimp Lobby” by Jes Richardson.
Perhaps the worst insult I’ve experienced was one during the Amnesty #ICM2015 twitter battle, when a Canadian anti-prostitution activist accused me of using the murder of Swedish sex worker activist Petite Jasmine to further my alleged agenda to legalise “sexual slavery”.
Black + Green Labels
A French sex worker activist once told me I wrote even “more politely than English people”. I believe that any movement needs different types of activism and writing. Some of it needs to be fierce; at other times, it’s better to be diplomatic. I’m always up for creating satirical memes, but in my writing, I prefer to be very diplomatic, although when faced with ideologues like Rhoda Grant or Mary Honeyball, that’s not always possible.
[+30] Idealist / Activist
What an American and a Turkish friend in South Korea called me. Justice Himel from the Ontario Court of Justice found that anti-prostitution activist Melissa Farley had allowed her advocacy to permeate her opinions. Although Farley’s work has been frequently discredited, anti-prostitution activists continue to cite her in support of sweeping claims about sex work, just as the notorious Cho/Dreher/Neumayer study is constantly rolled out to back up the argument that legalising sex work leads to greater human trafficking inflows, despite the seriously flawed data used to make that argument. I believe on both sides of the divide, it’s sometimes difficult to remain detached when people close to oneself experience violent abuse. When it comes to activism for the rights of sex workers, I believe it’s important to acknowledge what you don’t know and stay clear of problematic arguments. And that’s true regardless of whether you are a sex worker, a researcher, a journalist, an artist, a writer, or any combination of these.
[+50] Sex Worker Ally / Great Partner
[+70] Fabulous / Friend
What the above mentioned French and a South Korean sex worker activist have called me.
My preferred way of dealing with SWERF attacks is to create memes and share them with the #sexwork community or respond with counter evidence to the most ludicrous claims, like the one about sex workers’ rights advocates allegedly living in a land of milk and honey, when actually, it’s faux anti-trafficking organisations who rake in the dough.
Should you experience verbal abuse because you publicly stated your support for policies to safeguard sex workers’ human rights, try not to let it get to you. As American comedian W.C. Fields once put it, “it ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to”.
2015 Panel Discussion commemorating Sex Workers’ Day
“On April 9th, 2015, a public hearing was held at South Korea’s constitutional court regarding the constitutionality of the Anti-Sex Trade Laws. These laws are not simply laws that aim to punish buyers and sellers of sexual services, but have far wider implications. The laws encompass social issues including sexual morality, sexual self-determination, and the right to choose one’s vocation. In this light, Giant Girls Network for Sex Workers’ Rights will hold a panel discussion to review the aforementioned public hearing. The event will be held on Sunday, June 28th, 2015. Thank you for your interest and participation.”
“2015년 4월 9일 성매매특별법 위헌제청 공개변론이 열렸습니다. 성특법은 단순히 성구매자와 판매자의 처벌에 관한 법률이 아닙니다. 이 법에는 우리 사회의 성도덕, 성적 자기결정권의 국가 개입, 직업선택권 등의 복잡한 문제가 얽혀 있습니다. 성노동자권리모임 지지는 이 공개변론이 성특법에 대한 논의에서 중요한 역할을 했음에도 불구하고 공론화 되지 못함을 안타깝게 생각하여 6월 28일 일요일 공개간담회를 열고자 합니다. 많은 분들의 관심과 참여를 부탁드립니다.”
Chair: Sa Misook 사미숙 (Giant Girls)
Jeong Gwan Yeong 정관영 (Attorney)
Prof. Park Gyeong Shin 박경신 (Korea University, argues that the laws are unconstitutional)
Prof. Oh Gyeong Sik 오경식 (Kangrengwonju University, argues the laws are constitutional)
Jang Sehee 장세희 (Vice President, Hanteo National Union of Sex Workers)
Prof. Go Jeong Gaphee 고정갑희 (Hansin University)
Kim Yeoni 김연희 (Sexworker/Activist)
Date/Time: June 28, 2015 Sunday 13:30~15:30
Address: Bunker 1, Seoul Jongno-gu Dongsung-dong No 199-17 Floor -1 Danzzi Ilbo
서울특별시 종로구 동숭동 199-17번지 지하1층 딴지일보
Organiser: Giant Girls Network for Sex Workers’ Rights 성노동자권리모임 지지
Contact: Oh Gyeong Mi 오경미 010-4812-3350
Entrance is free. This event will be held in Korean.
Anyone unfamiliar with the ongoing constitutional review of South Korea’s Anti-Sex Trade Laws might find it helpful to read Choe Sang-Hun’s recent summary in the New York Times. Please note that this recommendation does not represent an endorsement of the terminology used therein.
June 29th ☂ Korean Sex Workers’ Day
On this day, the National Solidarity of Sex Workers Day was organised, after the Special Anti-Sex Trade Law [which includes a Prevention Act and a Punishment Act] was passed in 2004. Since then, the date is commemorated as Korean Sex Workers Day to honour all sex workers who have contributed to the struggle against discrimination over the years.
Sex workers and allies protest in front of the South Korean Constitutional Court.
© 2015 Research Project Korea. All Rights Reserved.
In May, I accepted an interview request by Malte Kollenberg, a freelance journalist producing a series about Germans living in South Korea for KBS World Radio. After several negative experiences with the Korean media, it was refreshing to meet a sincere journalist willing to go the extra mile to communicate before, during and after our encounter to ensure that the subject of sex work would be dealt with appropriately.
Listen to the interview in German or read the translated transcript below.
Please note that the copyright for the interview recording lies with KBS World Radio and is not licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Introduction by Malte Kollenberg
Matthias Lehmann’s research deals with a stigmatised occupation. He currently works on his dissertation about sex work regulations in Germany at Queen’s University Belfast. Over the last years, he’s created his own niche. Starting from his interest in North and South Korea, and later in human trafficking prevention in Thailand, he presented in 2013 the results of a privately funded research project about the impact of the South Korean Anti-Sex Trade Laws on sex workers’ human rights. And South Korea is still on his mind. Lehmann actively engages for improved working conditions for sex workers. For the “Meeting of Two Worlds”, we’ve met Lehmann in Busan and spoke with him about his research, the differences between Germany and South Korea, and his critique of the media.
Malte Kollenberg: Mr Lehmann, what brought you to South Korea?
Matthias Lehmann: I first came to Korea was in 2002. I majored in Korean Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and the first time I came here was as a visitor, and then I returned later as an exchange student. Back in Berlin, my home town, I had quite a few Korean friends, and that’s how I came in contact with Korean culture, especially with Korean music, and of course with Korean films. My family’s history was shaped by the German division. I was born and grew up in West Berlin, but I also had relatives in East Berlin and other, smaller cities, all the way down to Saxony, and often visited the former GDR. That’s why the history of the Korean division is both a very interesting and emotional issue for me, and that was one of main reasons why I got into the field of Korean Studies.
MK: In the meantime, your research field is an entirely different one, however, and has little to do with the Korean division.
ML: Right. During my previous studies, and also for some time after that, I was particularly interested in North Korea and the role of the United States in the so-called North Korean nuclear crisis. Afterwards, I first shifted my focus onto the field of human trafficking. I did my master’s degree here in Korea and the subject I then wanted to focus on, sex workers’ rights and prostitution laws, which is the subject I am also dealing with now, I couldn’t get approved by the faculty at my university here, and I guess I can understand that. That was why I continued to focus on human trafficking prevention for my M.A. thesis, but of course that included illustrating how laws that should actually fight human trafficking, like here in Korea, negatively affect the rights of sex workers, especially of migrant sex workers. So, that’s how my research interest developed: first Korea, then human trafficking, then sex work. And although I first focused on Thailand, I later returned to South Korea to focus more closely on the situation here after the huge protests in Seoul in 2011.
MK: You also did research about this subject from a German perspective. Generally speaking, are there great differences between how sex work/prostitution is regulated by law in Germany and South Korea?
ML: Yes, there’s a huge difference. I’ve now begun to focus on Germany for my doctoral degree, and it’s exciting for me to do research about my own country for the first time. In Germany, sex work has been legal for a very long time. The media often report that Germany legalised prostitution in 2002 but that is actually incorrect. Prostitution was already legal for most of the 20th century, with the exception of the Nazi period. What changed in 2002 was that a law was created to strengthen the legal and social rights of sex workers, and that the operating of brothels was permitted. That’s what changed. But sex work was already legal, both the buying and the selling of sexual services.
And that’s exactly what is prohibited in Korea, which means that brothel operators, people who facilitate contacts, for example escort agencies, and also sex workers themselves are all prosecuted here. And it does happen! I’ve often experienced that both Koreans and foreigners living in Korea say that they believe nothing is being done and that the police is always looking the other way. And that really isn’t true. It might only be a drop in the bucket – but that drop hits the target. In fact, there are many raids here, and since last year, they’ve actually increased again. People are arrested and sentenced, people have to appear before the court, and last November, a woman even died as a result of a raid, because she panicked and jumped out of a window to escape the police.
That was a very interesting case and that’s where we come to the media. If any “prostitution ring” or human trafficking case is uncovered in Korea or abroad, where Korean sex workers are involved, or victims of human trafficking, which of course can also occur, then the Korean media always report about it immediately and extensively in their English editions and on their English websites, because that’s “sexy” news. But when that woman died last November – absolute silence! Nobody wanted to report in English that this sort of thing also happens. Of course there were some reports about it in Korean, but they were not good and very disrespectful. In one of them, there was a cartoon that showed two police men looking down from a tall building and a dead woman lying below. How one can even have such an idea is a mystery to me. Of course there isn’t always such extreme harm involved, but raids do happen and the human rights of sex workers here in Korea are being violated. That’s a big problem.
MK: You just said that the media are keen on such “sexy” news. And that’s exactly how it is. Sex always sells in the media. You must be flooded with media requests.
ML: Indeed. With the exception of September 11, I’ve never experienced such an avalanche of media reports as in the last 18 months, both in Germany, but also in the UK. In Germany, that’s because there’s an ongoing discussion about changing the prostitution law. There’s a new bill but it has already been in the works for quite a while and no final decision has yet been made. The ruling coalition will probably just push it through parliament since they have such great majority there. In Northern Ireland, Scotland and also in the British House of Commons, different attempts were made to introduce laws to criminalise the purchase of sexual services. [In Northern Ireland, a law criminalising sex workers’ clients has come into force on June 1st, 2015.] And in Korea, there are also a lot of media reports, especially due to the ongoing constitutional review concerning the Korean anti-prostitution law.
MK: What might be the outcome of that?
ML: I didn’t really look very deeply into the adultery law, which was recently changed here so that adultery is now no longer punishable by law, but in the wake of that decision, it is of course possible that the constitutional judges, they’re eight men and one woman, will take the next step and say that the prostitution law also needs changing. But I don’t quite believe it yet. There have been constitutional reviews of the law in the past, but those weren’t submitted by a judge. However, two years ago, a Korean sex worker stood before the courts because she had sold sex, and she insisted on her right of self-determination, which resulted in the presiding judge at the Seoul Northern District Court submitting a request for a new constitutional review of the law.
The review should have been concluded already, but these things take a lot of time. In the case of the adultery law, for example, it took four years. The first public hearing was in April and the process will continue. The experts I’ve heard giving evidence so far represent a mixed bag. Sex workers are not sufficiently included. It’s bad enough in Germany, but here, it’s even worse. Although there are two different sex workers’ rights organisations, sex workers haven’t presented evidence so far. Instead, that was done by lawyers, researchers, and other experts, so that at the hearing, sex workers themselves weren’t heard. At least in Germany, even if that was merely a fig leaf, we did have a sex worker presenting evidence in front of the justice committee of the German parliament. But here, nothing of that sort happened.
MK: Let’s return to the media. On your blog, you published a media critique some time ago. What problems do you see when it comes to media reports about prostitution/sex work?
ML: Well, it wasn’t just one media critique but sadly, it’s a recurring issue, and it’s always a lot of work. I only focus on those that matter, for example, if there’s a detailed report from the BBC or from [German broadcaster] ARD. When it comes to reports about Korea, then what you mostly see in the German media are the latest stories to have allegedly happened in North Korea, and those stories are often trumpeted before they’re even confirmed, simply because they make for good clickbait. And when it comes to prostitution, there is no value set on fact-checking or actually speaking to members of the occupational group concerned. When the train drivers or pilots in Germany go on strike, then journalists speak with representatives of those occupational groups. Sadly, when it comes to sex work, that just doesn’t happen. Or if it happens, then they are harassed to make certain statements they don’t want to make, or do certain things they don’t want to do. I remember talking with a sex worker while I was doing my research project here in Korea, who told me that after the 2011 protests in Yeongdeungpo, that’s a red-light district in Seoul, one of the media teams insisted on filming her while she would do the dishes at a brothel. She replied to them that she never does that, so why should she do it now? Their idea was obviously to convey a message like, “Look, sex workers are normal people, just like you, doing normal things.” Maybe from a very naïve perspective, one can understand their motivation, but it’s still nonsense to try and fabricate something like that. Instead of trying to put words into their mouths, shouldn’t they actually report about what sex workers’ concerns and demands are?
On July 19th, 2013, people gathered in 36 cities across the globe
to protest against violence against sex workers. | Official Website
MK: The topic sex work/prostitution is so complex. Is there anything that you would like to add that you consider as particularly important?
ML: Yes, thank you. Ever since the global protest in June 2013, after two sex workers were murdered in Sweden and Turkey, the #StigmaKills hashtag is being used on Twitter. It refers to the fact that the stigmatisation of sex work and of sex workers really does result in deaths – or at the very least, it has a very negative impact on sex workers. Something I notice time and time again, especially here in Korea, is that people either feel sorry for sex workers, which they really don’t need, or they’re angry about them, which happens both in Korea or in the Korean communities in Australia, for example. They are angry because they seem to think that Korean sex workers who work abroad are giving Korea a bad image. But the reason why many Korean sex workers have migrated to work abroad is that the law, which was adopted here in 2004, criminalises them, and that the risks they’re taking by working abroad, for example in the US where sex work is also illegal, are still more predictable, or the conditions more attractive, than the risks they’d face if they were to stay and work here. People should finally listen to sex workers, and not just let off steam based on their prejudices.
MK: Thank you very much, Mr Lehmann.
ML: You’re welcome.
Please note that the copyright for the interview recording lies with KBS World Radio and is not licenced under a Creative Commons License.
Interview by Malte Kollenberg. © 2015 KBS World Radio. Translation by Matthias Lehmann. The English version differs slightly from the German original to make for easier reading. I would like to thank Malte Kollenberg for his professional attitude and sensitivity throughout our communication before, during and after the interview.
In January and April of this year, police in Macau twice busted prostitution businesses involving South Korean brokers and sex workers offering sexual services. In its press briefings, the Macau police released information about the fees clients were charged, and the earnings of the sex workers involved. Discussing the details of these arrangements with sex workers in South Korea revealed that women migrating to sell sexual services in Macau can earn considerably more than the average sex worker in South Korea, where, as trans* sex worker activist Lucien Lee commented, they are threatened by “constant raids, ‘End Demand’ strategies, and social stigma”.
None of the below represents an endorsement or critique of whatever arrangement sex workers enter into with third parties. It is merely intended to explain some of the arrangements in existence and to illustrate that for as long as sex work will remain criminalised in South Korea, some sex workers will choose to sell sexual services abroad if it promises higher earnings, and take the risk of being arrested there, if they face the same or even a higher risk at home anyway.
Media reports about arrests in Macau
In April, police in Macau busted yet another “organised prostitution syndicate” involving South Korean nationals, following a similar bust in January. In both instances, sex workers had apparently agreed with brokers to travel to Macau on tourist visas. Although they were paid for their work, South Korean media outlets (see here, here and here) reported these events as cases of “sex trafficking”, as they regularly conflate consensual adult sex work and human trafficking for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation of adults. They also nonchalantly reported about the indictment of the sex workers involved, which should actually have allowed them to connect the dots.
In the previous case, the Macau Daily Times reported “that the women in their 20s to 30s, arrived in Macau as tourists and stayed at a luxurious apartment, which was arranged by the detained suspect, for between ten and 30 days. The suspect also hired other brokers to show the women’s photos to potential clients on mobile phones”. Both the Macau Daily Times and South Korean daily Donga Ilbo reported that “it cost 850,000 to 2.1 million won (approx. 790-1,945 U.S. dollars) for a one-time sex trade”, and the Donga Ilbo had learnt that “350,000-1.7 million won (approx. 324-1,574 dollars) was paid to those women”. In the recent case, the Macau Daily Times reported that “the amount of money requested for each sexual service, as the police representatives said, ranged between HKD 6,000 and HKD 20,000. This money, initially kept by either the pimp or the driver, would later be used to compensate the sex workers when they departed the city. The prostitutes would only receive HKD 2,000 as remuneration for each deal regardless of the amount received from clients.”
When I discussed with trans* sex worker activist Lucien Lee whether or not the above outlined arrangement in the second case represented a fair deal, she commented:
“Abolitionists usually say something along the lines that if ‘pimps’ get a greater share of the profits then of course it must be exploitation, and that the sex industry is evil. But they seem to forget how the rest of the society works. Do other workers receive more than 50% of their employers’ revenue? I think that’s exactly why operators shouldn’t be punished. If there were more of them, they would have to compete amongst themselves and only those who took a smaller share from the sex workers’ earnings would survive. That said, I would also accept the deal those women got in Macau if I were a cis woman myself. However, the fact that sex workers consider working abroad in the first place not only has to do with how much they might be able to earn there, but also with the constant raids, ‘End Demand’ strategies, and the social stigma that may affect their families if they were caught at home.”
Before moving on to the earnings of sex workers in South Korea, it is interesting to note that the sex workers in the first case were reportedly “in their 20s to 30s”, while in the second case, the 21 women “involved in the two-month long prostitution operation“ were aged between 24 and 37 years. Thus, both cases run counter to the claims commonly put forward by prostitution prohibitionists that operators of prostitution businesses exclusively seek to employ very young women (under 21 years of age).
South Korean sex workers’ earnings
For argument’s sake, the lower fees paid to the sex workers in the second case will be used to compare the earnings of South Korean migrant sex workers in Macau to those of local sex workers in South Korea. The HK$ 2,000 that the sex workers in that case earned per client equal approx. £170 | US$ 260 | €240 | ₩280,000, which is considerably more than the average earnings of sex workers in South Korea. An independently working female sex worker recently told me that she charged clients between ₩100-150,000 (approx. £60-90 | US$90-140 | €80-120) for sessions lasting between 60 and 90 minutes. Previously, while working at a room salon, she earned ₩30-60,000 (approx. £18-36 | US$ 27-55 | €24-48) per every hour spent with a client. An independently working trans* sex worker told me she charged her clients ₩100,000 for a 3-hour session (approx. £62 | US$ 92 | €86). She added that other trans* sex workers charged the same amount for 2-hour sessions. A third sex worker reported that room salons pay sex workers around ₩70-90,000 (approx. £60-90 | US$90-140 | €80-120) to entertain and drink with clients, and ₩140,000-200,000 for sexual intercourse at nearby hotels (approx. £87-124 | US$130-185 | €120-173). She added that she preferred working at hyugetels (massage parlours), where she would earn ₩50-75,000 (approx. £31-46 | US$46-69 | €43-65) for sessions lasting 30, 40 or 50 minutes. Here, customers paid ₩80-140,000 (approx. £50-87 | US$74-130 | €69-120), meaning that sex workers received between 50 and 62% of what their clients paid to the operator.* Although the article by the Macau Daily Times doesn‘t specify the duration the South Korean sex workers spent with each client, they still earned considerably more than these three sex workers in South Korea, which illustrates that at least some sex workers seem to prefer arrangements to work in a foreign country. As a comparison: the hourly minimum wage in South Korea is currently ₩5,580 (approx. £3.41 | US$5.18 | €4.77).
As stated above, this article does not represent an endorsement or critique of whatever arrangement sex workers enter into with third parties or, put another way, what arrangements third parties offer to sex workers. There would certainly be a case to make that the outlays of the operators in these two cases couldn’t have been insignificant, considering the airfare for everyone involved and the costs for the luxury accommodations, in the more recent case “11 different apartments in Taipa”, the smaller of the two islands in Macau, which features expensive resorts and predominantly upscale apartment complexes. Naturally, they would have also wanted to generate a profit for themselves, which, should they have adhered to all previously made agreements with the sex workers involved, may be illegal but not immoral. All that, however, is speculative, and this article merely intends to explain some of the arrangements between sex workers and third parties currently in existence, and to illustrate that for as long as sex work will remain criminalised, some sex workers will choose to migrate and sell sexual services abroad if the potential benefits outweigh the risks involved. And the comparatively lower risk of getting caught is exactly what at least the brokers in the second case used as an argument to convince sex workers to travel to Macau.
Granted, all of the above is based on press briefings by the police in Macau and South Korea and on statements from a small number of South Korean sex workers. However, the sex workers who have spoken with me all appeared to have sound knowledge of the existing deals under which sex workers in South Korea currently operate, and Lucien Lee’s statement should suffice to challenge the existing notion that receiving a smaller share of what clients pay operators for sexual services renders a transaction exploitative per se. In addition, it is important to note that sex workers do not agree with the criminalisation of third parties involved in their work. As a briefing paper by the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) states, “where third parties are criminalised, sex workers suffer the consequences of that criminalisation” as it forces them to work more unsafely. As always, the message is clear: if you want to understand the conditions under which sex workers work, you only need to listen to them.
*Sex workers’ earnings: ₩50,000/30 min; ₩60,000/40 min; 70-75,000/50 min; customers’ payment: ₩80-100,000/30 min; ₩100-120,000/40 min; 120-140,000/50 min.
Photos taken on April 9th, 2015, as sex workers and activists gathered in front of South Korea’s Constitutional Court in Seoul ahead of a public hearing, part of the ongoing review of the country’s Anti-Sex Trade Laws. The sex workers depicted in these photos consented to them being published online. All photos © 2015 Matt Lemon Photography. All Rights Reserved.
+++ Update Sept. 23rd, 2015 | Please read E. Tammy Kim’s article for Al Jazeera America, titled Korean sex workers demand decriminalization of their labor +++
Lucien Lee (left), Yeoni Kim (right). Photos by Lucien Lee. All Rights Reserved.
Messages on the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers
“When the US go for a war, they say they want to liberate those who they are shooting at. Abolitionists say they want to liberate sex workers by ending demand, that is, their income source. Both of those freedom fighters should stop and look at the death count achieved by their violent operations.” – Lucien Lee (이류시연), South Korean MTF transgender sex worker activist
“Sex workers are placed in harsh environments due to social stigma and difficult legal situations. South Korea’s Constitutional Court must finally rule on the constitutionality of the Anti-Sex Trade Laws, which on November 25th, claimed yet another life when a 24-year-old sex worker and single mother in Tongyeong jumped from a motel and died while trying to escape a police crackdown. Sex workers are also human beings. Sex workers also have rights. Sex workers will no longer stay in the shadows. We will rise, we will move forward, we will fight to end violence against sex workers.” – Yeoni Kim, South Korean sex worker activist – Yeoni Kim, South Korean sex worker activist
“To help raising awareness of the regularity with which violence is committed against sex workers, I share nearly every report I come across dealing with attacks on and murders of sex workers, together with the #StigmaKills hashtag first used in the aftermath of the violent murders of Petite Jasmine and Dora Özer in July 2013. More often than not, these reports are written in manners that actually contribute to the stigmatisation of sex workers, which in turn contributes to the very violence they report about. Prostitution abolitionists talk endlessly about the violence they believe clients commit by the mere fact that they pay sex workers for their services, but you never hear a peep out of them about actual violence committed by law enforcement officers, whose operations they actually support, or about the negative impact of sensationalist and inaccurate media reports on sex workers’ safety. Instead, they call for taking away sex workers’ incomes by criminalising their clients, and they support forcing sex workers to register with the police, undergo mandatory health checks, or enter diversion programmes. To end violence against sex workers, it is vital to train police officers and journalists to treat sex workers with the respect they deserve.” – Matthias Lehmann, German researcher, currently in South Korea
December 17th – International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers
The International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers was created to call attention to crimes committed against sex workers all over the world.
“Originally conceptualized by Annie Sprinkle and initiated by the Sex Workers Outreach Project USA as a memorial and vigil for the victims of the Green River Killer in Seattle, Washington, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers has empowered workers from cities around the world to come together and organize against discrimination and remember victims of violence. During the week of December 17th, sex worker rights organizations and their allies stage actions and vigils to raise awareness about violence that is commonly committed against sex workers.” – SWOP-USA – Click to continue reading.
June 29th – Korean Sex Workers’ Day
In South Korea, the key date for sex workers is June 29th. On this day, the National Solidarity of Sex Workers Day was organised, after the Special Anti-Sex Trade Laws were passed in 2004. Since then, the date is commemorated as Korean Sex Workers Day to honour all sex workers who have contributed to the struggle against discrimination over the years.
Click here to find out more about other important dates of the sex workers‘ rights movement
#IDEVASW – Images from around the world
Click here to view many more images (and more details about them) tweeted and shared on December 17th.
What is Clause 6?
Clause 6 is part of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill in Northern Ireland, proposed by Lord Morrow from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), currently the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly. With Clause 6, the DUP aims to “create a new offence of purchasing sexual services to reduce demand for trafficked individuals and combat exploitation” and proposes to amend the Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 to criminalise any and all purchases of sexual services, regardless of consent between the individuals involved.
On Monday, October 20, 2014, sex workers and allies protested against Clause 6 at the Stormont Parliament Buildings in Belfast where parliamentarians debated over the more than 60 amendments before a vote on the Bill scheduled for the same night. +++ UPDATE: Clause 6 passed the Northern Ireland Assembly with 81 votes in favour, 10 votes against. +++
Against Clause 6
Research commissioned by the Department of Justice and carried out by researchers at Queen’s University found that 98% of sex workers who responded to the survey were against criminalising the purchase of sexual services.
“Sex workers worry that criminalisation of clients will lead to a potential decrease in security, worsen working conditions and increase risks of violence and other abuse. Some are also concerned about the loss of what they determine as decent clients and an increase in the number of violent clients. Another common concern is that criminalisation of clients will lead to the increased involvement of organised crime groups and ‘pimps’ in the sex industry.
For sex workers criminalisation of clients may mean that they would be less inclined to report crimes to the police out of fear of incriminating themselves or becoming involved in legal procedures.” (Source: Research into Prostitution in Northern Ireland, Report prepared by Queen’s University Belfast)
Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford commented:
“My view is that the research report raises clear questions as to whether the objective that Lord Morrow and I share – that is to reduce the incidence of trafficking – will indeed be furthered by Clause 6. I also believe it provides sufficient evidence for anyone who has any concerns about the welfare of individuals involved in prostitution to oppose Clause 6 on the grounds that we need more time to understand this, virtually hidden, element of our society and more time to make decisions on the right course for future law and policy.” (Source: Department of Justice)
Ford said the issue of trafficking people and human slavery should be separated from the issue of prostitution. “The research has established that the framework of prostitution in Northern Ireland is more complex and diverse than the picture generally painted. I have, however, seen no evidence to suggest that the change proposed by Lord Morrow would reduce the incidence of trafficking. Indeed the report contains evidence to suggest that criminalising the purchasing of sex, as a single clause in a bill, may create further risk and hardship for those individuals, particularly women involved in prostitution,” the justice minister said. (Source: The Guardian)
In a press release, sex workers’ rights activist Laura Lee stated:
“Will sex workers in NI have to wait decades for an apology just as the Magdalene women did ? Or will that apology for bad law making come after the first murder, or fourth serious assault perhaps ? It remains to be seen, but they cannot for a moment pretend they didn’t have the evidence available to do right by an already marginalised and stigmatised group. Sex workers will suffer, and it could have been prevented by the courageous actions of a few. Instead we have been let down by the cowardice of many.” (Source: Laura Lee)
+++ Update: Statement by sex workers in Northern Ireland on passing of Clause 6 +++
“We, as sex workers are devastated to hear about the news that the purchase of sex will be criminalised in Northern Ireland under the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill. This new bill will only drive sex work further underground and make it more dangerous for the most marginalised sex workers.
The Northern Ireland Assembly are not listening to current sex workers who will be affected by this new legislation and the evidence released by the Department of Justice on Friday backs this up. 98% of sex workers surveyed are against this new law and 85% working in the industry said it would not reduce trafficking.
We ask the Northern Ireland Assembly to reconsider this law and look at the evidence. This law will not reduce trafficking and will make working conditions more unsafe.” (Source: Ugly Mugs Ireland)
Stormont Protest: Sex workers and allies protest against Clause 6
Photos: Sex workers and allies protest against Clause 6 of Lord Morrow’s ill-informed Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, which criminalises the purchase of sexual services in Northern Ireland. © 2014 Matt Lemon Photography | Please read the copyright notice
(Includes appearances by “Andy”, an anonymous female sex worker; Dr Susann Huschke, lead author of the research report; and Justice Minister David Ford)
Statement by Korean Sex Worker Organisation Giant Girls
We condemn the South Korean government for denying sex workers their human rights and criticise the government’s plan to pay rewards of up to one hundred million won to prostitution informants.
On May 20th 2014, the South Korean Government announced that they will pay rewards of up to one hundred million won (US$98,000 | £58,000 | €70,000) to informants who provide important leads to crime investigations, notably organised crime and prostitution. This announcement exhibits the government’s indifference, ignorance, and incompetency.
Since 2005, the government has successfully ignored the voices of sex workers, their cry against stigmatisation and discrimination, their fight for their right to survive, and the apparent link between sex work and women’s poverty. Instead of putting prostitution on the same level of criminal offences like organized crime, one should consider why people choose to enter and stay in prostitution.
What sex workers face is not limited to prostitution. Prostitution and sex work reflect the Korean society’s policies and attitudes towards minorities and workers, and also how strong the social safety net is. What people think of prostitution, how the sex industry is created and maintained, what the public opinion says about it, and how the government copes with it, all reflect the general problem of our society.
The government doesn’t think that prostitution is a result of inequalities in Korean society. Instead, it tries to blame prostitution for all sorts of social problems. Poverty and the failure to acknowledge the human rights of sex workers are key problems that sex workers face. It those problems remain unresolved, the controversy about prostitution will continue.
Prostitution is already illegal in Korea. That is why sex workers cannot ask for protection during their work. Rather than protecting sex workers, the police violate their human rights during crackdowns. Amidst all this, this new policy will pose a new threat to the survival of sex workers. With bounty hunters at large, sex workers will have to hide in the shadows where there is neither safety nor a regular income. This policy is also dangerous as it may direct public frustration at the Park administration’s incompetency, incapacity and dishonesty towards sex workers by defining sex workers as the delinquent “others”. Stigmatising minorities as criminals and putting them into dangerous circumstances represents nothing short of a witch hunt.
To most of male, female and transgender sex workers, sex work is a matter of survival. Before asking sex workers why would they go into this business, the government should reflect on the circumstances that renders sex work inevitable. A weak social safety net, prejudices within Korean society, and the attitude of Korean society towards poverty should be held accountable. Sex workers constantly have to be afraid and will have no access to workers’ rights and human rights as long as prostitution is deemed a crime and “prostitutes” as filthy.
We, the members of Giant Girls, the Network for Sex Workers’ Rights, express our outrage over this incompetent and irresponsible government announcement and declare that we will take every measure against the situation.
May 20th, 2014
Giant Girls, the Network for Sex Workers’ Rights
Author: Giant Girls, Network for Sex Workers’ Rights (성노동자권리모임 지지)
Translation: Research Project Korea, with kind permission by Giant Girls
Please click here for the Korean version.
Goodbye, Research Project Korea!
Research Project Korea was an independent research project by Matthias Lehmann to examine the impact of South Korea’s Anti-Sex Trade Law on sex workers’ human rights. The project was unaffiliated to any university or organisation and funded exclusively by private funds and donations.
Research Project Korea published a photo series by Yeoni Kim and a letter by Hyeri Lee to provide readers with first-hand insights into the lives and work of sex workers in South Korea. Research findings were presented at a symposium at Humboldt University of Berlin and at another symposium at the Urania Berlin. It is intended to integrate the findings into an academic publication in the near future.
As of March 2014, Research Project Korea has concluded, although additional articles will be added in the future, e.g. in regards to the outcome of the ongoing constitutional review of the Anti-Sex Trade Law, so please return to check for updates.
Hello, Research Project Germany!
Matthias Lehmann is currently preparing his doctoral research project at the Faculty of Law at Queen’s University Belfast. It will deal with the regulation of prostitution in Germany. There is a new website and a new Facebook page for this project, whereas the Twitter account and all video and audio repositories stay the same. Click the image below to visit the new website. All information will be provided in English.
I would like to express my deepest gratitude to all sex workers who have placed their trust in me during the course of this research project, to my superb research team for all their hard work, and to all followers for their generous support and continued interest. Thanks to all of you, it was possible to bring the situation of sex workers in South Korea to the attention of a wider public and to contribute to more meaningful discourses about sex work and prostitution laws in South Korea and elsewhere. I am forever in your debt.
March 25th, Belfast
Letztes Update jetzt erhältlich! Wenn Sie gerne das letzte Update des Forschungsprojekts Korea erhalten möchten, hinterlassen Sie bitte einen Kommentar oder senden eine Email an yongsagisa [at] gmail.com.
In May 2013, leading German news magazine DER SPIEGEL published a cover story on the alleged failure of the German prostitution law which, according to DER SPIEGEL, rendered the State complicit in human trafficking. Contrary to South Korea, prostitution is legal in Germany, though it is heavily regulated in most municipalities.
Since its publication, the SPIEGEL article has been quoted by campaigners for the criminalisation of prostitution in many parts of the world. Most recently, Mary Honeyball, a member of the European Parliament for the British Labour Party, cited the article as evidence in her “Report on sexual exploitation and prostitution and its impact on gender equality”. The Honeyball Report was subsequently voted upon in the European Parliament, despite strong opposition from 560 NGOs as well as 94 academics and researchers who published a counter-report exposing the inaccurate and misrepresentative data used by Mary Honeyball.
Notwithstanding, a majority of MEPs backed the report, which was adopted as a non-binding resolution, thus formally establishing the EU’s stance on prostitution as being in support of the ‘Swedish Model’ that criminalises the buyers of sexual services.
Back in June 2013, Sonja Dolinsek and Matthias Lehmann had published a critique of the SPIEGEL article, which they found to be deeply flawed and failing to address numerous relevant aspects of human trafficking prevention and prosecution, including victim protection.
Noticing that the SPIEGEL article had found its way into the Korean news media, Research Project Korea launched a small fundraiser to have the critique translated into Korean. Nearly 90% of the funding target were reached quickly and the translation was completed at the end of June. The real challenge, however, was just beginning.
The plan to place the translated article in a Korean newspaper proved to be extremely difficult. Many editorial staff didn’t even bother to reply, but eventually, one of the biggest dailies expressed interest. The editorial department even planned to expand the article to include comments from sex workers and feminist academics. After protracted correspondence – months would literally pass by until the research team received new responses – it then suddenly transpired via a contact that the article wouldn’t be published after all. A journalist from the newspaper later confirmed this, without giving any reasons.
Although a lot of time has passed, we have now decided to self-publish the article, since the constitutional review of the Anti-Sex Trade Law in South Korea has still not concluded; a second reason is the significance the SPIEGEL article appears to retain for prostitution law discourses, especially outside Germany, where, long after the print edition has been recycled, it finds acceptance as unrefuted truth and continues to be utilised by anti-prostitution activists. It is currently disseminated on Korean online forums to insert some much-needed factual evidence into prostitution discourses in South Korea.
To view the Korean version of our article, please click here.
The research team would like to express its deepest gratitude to the generous donors who helped fund the translation as well as to the translators, Miss CHO Woori, Miss SONG Byol and [Anonymous].
Presentations at Humboldt University of Berlin
In March 2013, I had the pleasure of giving a presentation at a symposium at Humboldt University of Berlin. The presentation was titled “Sex Crime” or “Sexual Self-Determination”? and dealt with prostitution discourses in South Korea and their negative impacts on sex workers. This presentation was part of a session titled “Autonomy and Heteronomy in Sex Work”. The second presenter in this session was Ms. Noémi Katona who gave a presentation titled “Coercion, Money, and Intimacy: Hungarian Sex Workers and their Pimps/Boyfriends at Kurfürstenstraße”. In February 2014, podcasts of these and other presentations were made available by the organisers and the above video contains an updated version of my slides and combined it with the podcast. Click here to listen to Noémi Katona’s presentation and here to listen to our joint Q & A session. For all other podcasts, please click here. Please note that this video and all podcasts are available in German only and that their audio quality, on which we had no influence, is sadly below par.
“Human Trafficking in the 21st Century”
Despite heightened public attention to “human trafficking”, the definition of this phenomenon remains difficult and contested. On March 22nd and 23rd, 2013, the symposium “Hurt Lives – Denied Rights. Human Trafficking in the 21st Century” took place at Humboldt University Berlin. Next to academic and field experts, young researchers showcased their work in presentations and workshops. The symposium was sponsored by the Humboldt-Universitäts-Gesellschaft e.V. (Humboldt University‘s Association of Friends, Alumni and Sponsors).
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.
560 NGOs and 94 academics reject report by Mary Honeyball
560 NGOs, including 472 based in Europe, have asked the members of the European Parliament to reject a “Report on Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation and its Impact on Gender Equality”, written by Mary Honeyball, MEP for London. They were joined by 94 academics and researchers from Europe, North America, and the Asia-Pacific, who published a letter and a critical review of Mary Honeyball’s report, which will be voted upon during a plenary session on the 26th of February 2014 at the European Parliament. The report recommends member states to adopt the so-called “Swedish Model”, which criminalises buying sexual services, whereas selling them remains legal (but very often criminalised in practice).
+++ Update! In an email to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), dated February 24th, 2014, Mary Honeyball has slandered the above NGOs as being “comprised of pimps”. Click here to view a screenshot of the email. +++
Academics criticise use of biased, inaccurate and disproven data
Responding to an initiative by the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE), the letter and critical review, signed by 94 academics and researchers, contradicts Mary Honeyball’s claim, made in a recent interview on LBC Radio, that her report had “a good basis of evidence and facts”.
The letter states, “We are concerned that this report is not of an acceptable standard on which to base a vote that would have such a serious, and potentially dangerous, impact on already marginalised populations.” It continues, “The report by Ms Honeyball fails to address the problems and harms that can surround sex work and instead produces biased, inaccurate and disproven data. We believe that policies should be based on sound evidence and thus hope that you will vote against the motion to criminalise sex workers’ clients.”
The critical review attests to Mary Honeyball’s “selection biases and crude misassumptions” and finds that she “substantively misinterpreted” two of her sources, namely a report commissioned by the City of Amsterdam and the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice and another by the German Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth.
The letter concludes, “To base any policy on such a methodologically flawed document, particularly one which would have such a detrimental impact on the human rights and wellbeing of a large number of marginalised individuals, would be setting a dangerous precedent.”
Click here to view or download the letter and counter-report.
NGOs denounce conflation of sex work and human trafficking
The letter endorsed by 560 NGOs, among them many organisations working with victims of human trafficking and migrant sex workers, denounces Mary Honeyball’s report for its conflation of sex work and trafficking. Citing a 2013 report by the Dutch National Rapporteur on Human Trafficking in Human Beings, the authors remind the MEPs that “there is no evidence that legalised prostitution increases trafficking”.
The letter continues, “A large number of HIV and health organisations have warned policy makers of the dangers of criminalising either sex workers or their clients. Worryingly, the question of public health is largely ignored in this report. We quote UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work in their 2011 report to accompany the UNAIDS Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work (2009): ‘States should move away from criminalising sex work or activities associated with it . Decriminalisation of sex work should include removing criminal penalties for purchase and sale of sex, management of sex workers and brothels, and other activities related to sex work.’”
Click here to view or download the letter.
Click here to view a separate statement by the La Strada International NGO Platform – ‘united against trafficking in human beings’ – which consists of NGOs from Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Moldova, the Netherlands, Poland, Serbia, and Ukraine.
What can you do?
Click here to sign the petition and tell members of the European Parliament to say NO to the criminalisation of sex workers’ clients.
Write to your MEP. If you live in one off the 28 members country of the European Union, you can directly write to your MEP. ICRSE has put together a guide to action for individuals and organisations. It includes versions in italiano, deutsch, español, român, português, polski, suomalainen, and francais.
Highlights from a symposium about the German Prostitution Act at the Urania Berlin on December 9th, 2013. The event was organised by Felicitas Schirow who had invited experts from the fields of justice, criminology, social work, sociology, and social sciences, as well as an expert from the Berlin State Office of Criminal Investigation (LKA) and two women’s rights spokeswomen from the Left Party and the Greens.
Facts and Figures about the German Prostitution Act
“The Swedish Model has led to bizarre outcomes. Firstly, prostitution in Sweden has not decreased. Secondly, in order to prosecute punters, the police can only conduct investigations under degrading conditions. In my view, if you want to create a law, as the coalition agreement suggests, then you should first do proper research about legal facts, before you conclude some backroom deal without rhyme or reason that only serves to make matters worse.”
– Percy MacLean, Chief judge at the Berlin Administrative Court (ret.), former director of the German Institute for Human Rights, recipient of the 2004 Carl von Ossietzky Medal by the International League for Human Rights (ILHR) which honours citizens or initiatives that promote basic human rights
“We say that the prostitution law needs to be updated. The interior ministers have demanded (a reform) in 2010, but it still hasn’t been implemented. What is now being demanded in the media is in fact the long overdue implementation of this resolution. I believe it’s justified to say that prostitution isn’t a job like any other but to automatically equate prostitution with human trafficking isn’t fair, isn’t appropriate, and doesn’t contribute to the discourse. I’ve met enough women that prostituted themselves voluntarily, that were neither forced nor went into that line of work due to economic necessities, and I believe the state should acknowledge that. We witness it in our daily work, and that is why I always ask for a factual and differentiated view, maybe with a few uncomfortable comments by the police.”
– Heike Rudat, Director of the unit dealing with organised crime at the Berlin State Office of Criminal Investigation (LKA)
“If there is no majority for a sensible law, then I believe we don’t necessarily need a (new) law. Article 180a of the Criminal Code – that is one of the four laws that were adopted in 2002, at least one, that’s a significant share – prohibits brothel owners to offer prostitution in a fashion that limits the personal and economic liberties of those employed there. If extortionate rents and fees are charged, if no receipts are given for the payment of provided services etc. – those aren’t findings of the department for organised crime but from female police officers that work in the milieu – then those would be concrete facts that would raise the suspicion of exploitative prostitution being offered there, and existing laws already allow for such a brothel to be controlled. I would have no objections if legislation would further clarify these matters but then one must no longer view them from the human trafficking angle but talk about price controls through the Trade Supervisory Office, about the prevention of exploitative prostitution, and about the implementation – at long last – of the Prostitution Act, and one would have to completely change the jargon. The Prostitution Act was torpedoed. Let us finally put the Prostitution Act into effect. And, dear women, if you believe you need to be dominated by an old woman named Alice Schwarzer, oh my…”
– Prof. Dr. emer. Monika Frommel Criminologist, former director of the Institute of Sanction Law and Criminology at the University of Kiel
“Since there are repeated calls again for controls, controls, and more controls, let’s take a look at the subject of health. I can honestly say that Berlin’s outreach clinics seldom report the outbreak of diseases where the general public is concerned, and the women (in prostitution) are also free to visit a doctor. Their bodies are their assets. They have to be fit. They can’t say, all right, nothing to worry about, I might spread some diseases a little. It’s been suggested time and again that prostitutes are guilty of spreading venereal diseases. It’s wrong. That occurs on different levels.”
– Ilona Hengst, Social worker with 25 years of experience working with sex workers, previously held positions at several district offices in Berlin
“There has to be collaboration with sex workers, women’s projects and all stakeholders to pull together in one direction, to get this discourse into the right direction, because currently, it goes into the wrong one.”
– Evrim Sommer, Spokeswoman for women’s rights and member of the Berlin parliament for the Left Party (Linkspartei)
“Others have already mentioned the right of direction (Weisungsrecht) here today. I believe it’s very important to emphasise this subject, since the idea of further restrictions on the right of direction was also discussed among the Greens. Some suggest that brothel owners should no longer be allowed to assign the workplace or schedule, which to my knowledge are the only aspects the (already restricted) right of direction permits them to control. I believe this is the wrong debate. One should better come out and admit that one’s actual goal is to prohibit prostitution than trying to further restrict the right of direction, just to make it impossible to work in prostitution.”
– Gesine Agena, Spokeswoman for women’s rights and member of the federal board of the German Greens
“What actually happens in the setting of prostitution, when a client comes to a prostitute or talks to her? When the client goes to the prostitute, assuming they’re both adults, then it’s usually the prostitute who specifies and determines things relatively clearly, because most men, at least in my experience, are not necessarily in a position to clearly express what they actually like or want, and so she is the one making suggestions. Then they negotiate, about the price, too, and once they come to an agreement, the door closes, or the car door closes, or wherever they go together, and then a sexual service is performed. It’s a sexual and proactive act. The woman neither sells her body, nor does she sell her soul. Some people, and our society is no exception, apparently cannot imagine that women can actively offer and negotiate those services, and that they are basically in charge of these situations. I believe this is something that is very difficult to communicate and where we always get stuck at the client/prostitute level, e.g. where the criminalisation of clients is concerned. And where physical or sexualised violence does occur, we enter an area, also where criminal proceedings are concerned, of bodily harm, grievous bodily harm, rape etc. That is one level.”
– Christiane Howe, Sociologist at the Institute for Social Studies at Humboldt University Berlin
“Over the last few years, sex workers have told me time and time again about the physical and verbal abuse sex workers experience at the hands of police officers, including rape and the demand of “freebies”, i.e. sexual services in exchange for not being arrested, and there is ample documentation of this happening. Licensing or registration models have proven ineffective, or rather, where there’s a positive impact, it benefits only a small number of sex workers, since it was shown that in places where such models were introduced, the vast majority of sex workers worked outside of those legal frameworks. In addition, the measures that are involved often represent human rights violations, such as the forced outing of sex workers through compulsory registration schemes or mandatory health checks, which were both suggested by the editorial staff of the EMMA magazine and Mr Sporer from the criminal investigation department in Augsburg.”
– Matthias Lehmann, PhD Candidate at the Faculty of Law, Queens University Belfast
“I organised this event so that politicians, who will someday, maybe soon, create laws affecting us, cannot say they would have made different decisions if they had known about the contents of this event.”
– Felicitas Schirow, Since 1997 Owner of the brothel “Cafe Pssst!” in Berlin Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf. 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 Prostitution Act of 2002.
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.
Please 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.
© 2013-2014 Felicitas Schirow
℗ 2013-2014 blumlein records – Andrew Levine
The following is a brief introduction of the Soho Raids and an excerpt from a letter I sent to London’s Metropolitan Police in support of the Action Alert to Stop Attacks, Arrests & Evictions Against Sex Workers by the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP).
Last December, 200 officers in riot gear with dogs raided sex workers’ flats in Soho. Some women were handcuffed and dragged out in their underwear in front of the media. Closure Notices were issued against 18 flats and Closure Orders were then confirmed by a district judge in subsequent court cases. Soho is one of the safest places for women to work as they have a maid or receptionist with them and the support of the local community.
Police claimed in court that women were controlled because they were “required to work certain days of the week, between certain times and charge a specified amount of money for each service”. No “controller” was named or identified. District Judge Susan Williams found sex workers’ evidence “truthful”, admitted that “no evidence has been put before me of force and coercion” and acknowledged that a maid “is considered essential for safety”.
Click here to continue reading.
I was appalled to learn about the actions of the police in Soho on December 4th, 2013. In my opinion, these actions in no way reflected the Metropolitan Police’s concept of ‘total policing’, apart from maybe the ‘total professionalism’ with which your officers mistreated sex workers during the raid. Adding insult to injury, you invited the media to witness and document the actions, enabling them to publicly humiliate sex workers present at the scene.
- A ‘total war on crime’ this was not, but a war on sex workers earning a livelihood in Soho.
- If you were looking for victims of human trafficking, then how come your staff lacked the ‘total care for victims’?
- If you were aiming to ‘cut crime’, then why did you choose to attack, harass and evict women selling sex, which is not a crime in England?
- If you wanted to ‘cut costs’, then why did you send 200 of your officers to conduct a major raid in Soho?
- What kind of ‘culture of the organisation’ do you aim to develop by evicting, detaining and harassing sex workers, by kicking down doors, closing working flats, confiscating money and personal belongings as well as manhandling women in the street in front of the media?
- Where’s the humility, integrity and transparency with which you aim to achieve this ‘culture’?
If you genuinely aim for the Met to become ‘the best police service in the world’, you might want to take a moment to listen to Chris Armitt, Assistant Chief Constable for People Development at Merseyside Police.
“I genuinely think that enforcement is short-term. It doesn’t have a long-lasting effect, and sadly, there were a number of case studies who would say that where very robust and overt police enforcement is taking place, shortly after that, the incidents of violent attacks on sex workers increased, and that is possibly because those who would target sex workers become emboldened by what they say as an intolerance to the actual activity taking place.” – Chris Armitt [See Video below]
I believe the two recent murders of Mariana Popa and Maria Duque-Tunjano should give you more than enough reason to rethink your ‘culture’. Both women were sex workers, one working on the street and one working indoors but alone.
I ask you not only to genuinely change the nature of your operations and the culture of your officers, but to have the closure orders against sex workers’ flats revoked with immediate effect. Throwing women out on the street, as your officers literally did on December 4th, demonstrates a complete and utter disregard for their lives and safety, a safety they enjoy when working together and inside.
The claims that the raids were somehow needed to investigate suspected trafficking and abuse have been shown to be without foundation. No victims were found and there have been no prosecutions for trafficking. Instead, several migrant sex workers were taken into custody and shanghaied to a detention centre of the UK Border Authority, despite having reassured officers that they had not been trafficked into the UK and were working voluntarily.
During a recent visit in Soho, I could well see the changes the community is under. By coincidence, I actually witnessed how well-dressed staff of Soho Estates wandered about the area in which the closed brothel apartments are located, discussing the plans they have for area – a stark reminder of what is actually at stake in Soho, an area that has always been famous among locals and tourists for its diversity. The writing surely is on the wall. Whatever property developers have in mind, however, does not give the police the right to harass sex workers and evict them from their premises.
I firmly oppose the closures and urge you to reverse them, apologise to the women you harassed and caused distress, reimburse them for their losses, and ensure that sex workers’ safety will be given a priority in all future actions by the Metropolitan Police. If you manage to establish links and trust with sex workers and local outreach organisations, as ACC Chris Armitt suggests, you are likely to see an increase in collaboration with sex workers and a decrease in criminal activity. If you continue down the same path, however, you will shoulder a big part of the responsibility of violence against sex workers. As Valerie Scott, one of the plaintiffs in the Bedford v. Canada case asked recently: “How many bodies have to pile up?”
Stop the closures!
Women are appealing against the evictions on 10, 17 and 24 February at Isleworth Crown Court. Please join them in demanding that these closures be stopped. Please write urgently addressing your letters to:
Borough Commander Alison Newcomb alison.newcomb[at]met.police.uk
Westminster Cllr. Nickie Aitkin in charge of community safety naiken[at]westminster.gov.uk
cc: English Collective of Prostitutes ecp[at]prostitutescollective.net
For a model letter click here.
The following is a statement in support of the petition by the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) ahead of a vote at the European Parliament at the end of this month. Please sign and share it widely.
Dear Members of the European Parliament,
I am well aware that the matter you have been asked to vote upon is for many a complicated or uncomfortable one. However, regardless of your moral or religious beliefs, I would like to ask you to look at the abundance of evidence that counters the claims made by your colleague Mary Honeyball and vote against the criminalisation of clients of sex workers.
There is sufficient evidence that the Swedish Model to criminalise the purchase of sexual services has not only failed to curb human trafficking, it has also created an environment that increases the stigma attached to sex work and puts sex workers at greater risk of violence, at times with disastrous consequences, including murder. For those unfamiliar with the subject, I have written a little introduction which includes references to relevant studies.  In addition, you may look at studies and reports by the UN , the WHO , the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women , and others , incl. the Swedish Police , which is exactly what Mary Honeyball did obviously not do. Instead, she chose sources to back up her arguments drawn from a thoroughly discredited researcher (Melissa Farley, see Bedford v. Canada, 353-356) , an equally thoroughly debunked article by German news magazine Der Spiegel  and other questionable sources.
Apart from being firmly opposed to Ms Honeyball’s views, I find it disgraceful that a member of your assembly displays such poor work ethics that could be described as ill-informed at best, though deceptive might be the more appropriate term here. It is disappointing that time, efforts and taxes are being spent to form a proposal that fails to address problems that do exist in the sex industry and instead aims to add to them.
Please let reason prevail, listen to sex workers, and vote against the criminalisation of their clients.
PhD Candidate in Law, Queens University Belfast
 Lehmann “Criminalising the payment for sexual services – An introduction for the uninitiated” http://wp.me/p294H2-NM
 UNDP “Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific” http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/hivaids/English/HIV-2012-SexWorkAndLaw.pdf
 WHO “Violence against sex workers and HIV prevention” http://www.who.int/gender/documents/sexworkers.pdf
 GAATW “Collateral Damage – The Impact of Anti-Trafficking Measures on Human Rights around the World” http://www.gaatw.org/Collateral%20Damage_Final/singlefile_CollateralDamagefinal.pdf
 Dodillet, Östergren “The Swedish Sex Purchase Act: Claimed Success and Documented Effects“ http://gup.ub.gu.se/records/fulltext/140671.pdf
 Swedish National Police board “Trafficking in human beings for sexual and other purposes” https://www.polisen.se/Global/www%20och%20Intrapolis/Informationsmaterial/01%20Polisen%20nationellt/Engelskt%20informationsmaterial/Trafficking_1998_/Trafficking_report_13_20130530.pdf
 See Judge Himel’s comments in Bedford v. Canada [353-356] www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2010/2010onsc4264/2010onsc4264.html
 Dolinsek, Lehmann “Does legal prostitution really increase human trafficking in Germany?” http://wp.me/p1NLSO-eb
On November 30th, 2013, an event was held at the Vancouver Public Library to remember the victims of the 1989 massacre at L’École Polytechnique. According to Hilla Kerner, spokeswoman for Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, which sponsored the event, its purpose was not only to “remember those 14 women in the political and historical context that this man killed them”, but also “to use the day to talk about violence against women now, to reveal the different forms of male violence against women, and to celebrate women’s resistance. … We do see prostitution as one form of male violence against women.”
In the run-up to the event, the invitation of Janice Raymond had sparked a controversy. Raymond is an American radical feminist author and activist, and a professor emerita of Women’s Studies and Medical Ethics at the University of Massachusetts (UMass). Between 1994 and 2007, Raymond served as a co-executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), where she is currently on the Board of Directors. She campaigns against the legalisation of prostitution and for the penalisation of the clients of sex workers. Her academic credibility has been called into question, among others by Ronald Weitzer, professor of Sociology at George Washington University, known for his publications on the sex industry. 
At the event, Raymond gave a talk under the heading “Prostitution: Not a Job, not a Choice”, in which she referred to the “South Korean Model”, i.e. the Anti-Sex Trade Law, as a “miracle” that “truly empowers the women”. Below, I will respond to Raymond’s claims and describe an interesting response I received in an online forum.
Responding to Janice Raymond’s claims
[Raymond] “Basically, the Republic of South Korea in the year 2004 passed a zero tolerance law, that’s what it was called, targeting, among other things, the demand for prostitution.”
What Raymond refers to here are the Special Laws on Sex Trade (성매매 특별법, Seongmaemae tteukbyeol beob) – that is what they are called – and what she omits is that one of the “other things” the laws are targeting is the selling of sexual acts. The Punishment Act penalises both buyers and sellers of sexual acts with up to one year in prison or fines of up to 3 million won (approx. £1,715/€2,075/$2,825), except for those who were coerced into selling sex.
[Raymond] “When I met with service organizations in Korea that provided this assistance to women, they told me that the most gratifying part of the law was the 56% decrease of women in prostitution that was reported several years after the law was passed. That was from a government study, that was the Ministry of Gender Equality that conducted that study in Korea. So a 56% decrease in women in prostitution, and that the number of sex districts had decreased also, by about 40%.”
The cited “government study” is a report from November 2007 that was published by the South Korean Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (여성가족부, MOGEF) but produced by the Korean Women’s Development Institute (한국여성정책연구원, KWDI), and its research methodology seems questionable at best.
The report, which is only available in Korean, is titled: “National Survey on the current conditions of the Sex Trade in Korea” (전국성매매실태조사). KWDI chose altogether 8 business types from government registries of businesses they suspected as most likely to facilitate transactional sex. Those were: serviced pubs, clubs, smaller pubs, tea and coffee houses, noraebangs (karaoke places), barber shops, massage parlours, and beauty shops/wellness places. People living or working in red light districts were interviewed and the findings were based on their impressions.
The cited 56% decrease only refers to the number of remaining red light districts (39 in 2007, down from 69 in 2002), not the number of “women in prostitution” and not the number of businesses – just the number of red light districts, some of which disappear(ed) due to gentrification and redevelopment. According to the report, the number of sex workers working in those 39 red light districts decreased by 40% (3,644 in 2007, down from 9,092 in 2002), and the number of “full-time brothels” (전업형) in those 39 red light districts decreased by 49% (1,443 in 2007, down from 2,938 in 2002). However, these numbers do not account for sex workers and businesses outside of these 39 red light districts or for the influence the internet has had on the sex industry.
Thus, any conclusions drawn from the KWDI report only apply to these specific red light districts, and it is important to note that the report’s time frame began in fact two years prior to the introduction of the Anti-Sex Trade Law, which means that the decrease cannot be attributed to the law alone, even where the conditions in red light districts are concerned.
The numbers in the KWDI report don’t always add up either. The 2007 figures in the report list 39 red light districts, 1,443 brothels, 3,644 sex workers, 2,510,000 clients per year, and an average of 5.8 clients per brothel and day. However, if one multiplies 5.8 x 1443 x 365 (clients per brothel and day x brothels x 1 year), one arrives at 3,054,831 client visits, a discrepancy of 544,831. It probably explains why MOGEF stated they wouldn’t take any responsibility for the figures in the report.
“This report was commissioned by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and the research was conducted by the Korea Women’s Development Institute. The result of this research and the content of the report are solely the opinions of the researchers, of which no official position of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family is to be inferred.”
[Raymond] “Included in that legislation were added resources to assist the women in prostitution. … The assistance package, that was really, very much funded by the government, which provided counselling, job retraining, medical treatment, a monthly stipend, and legal support. And to qualify for that, women had to demonstrate in some way, through the assistance organizations, who certified this, that they had been harmed or that they suffered from addictions or other disabilities or were underage. Thousands of women took advantage of that provision and subsequently exited prostitution.”
According to government sources, the bare minimum sufficient to survive in South Korea is approx. 600,000 won for a 1-person household. For a 3-person household (e.g. single parent + 2 kids), it is approx. 1,300,000 won. People who receive government benefit also receive medical and educational support and have their TV license fees waived. As a comparison, a person working at minimum wage would earn 1,080,000 Won (before taxes).
Therefore, one can safely assume that a monthly stipend of 400,000 won, which is part of the assistance package Raymond referred to, does not represent a sufficient incentive to exit prostitution, since one wouldn’t be able to survive on it, and since in order to receive it, third parties are required to certify that one actually deserves it. In addition, the sustainability of said assistance seems questionable (see ‘Empowerment’).
Earlier, however, the same person wrote:
One can agree that asking the “wo(man) in the street” about her or his opinion is likely to produce “vague impressions, rumors and popular myths”. What the report I cited showed – and nothing else I had suggested – was how the majority of respondents viewed the implementation of the Anti-Sex Trade Law, with the key word being “viewed”. Nobody claimed they represented “reliable figures on prostitution”.
Janice Raymond, however, cited a government study of which she didn’t know who actually conducted it, a law of which she didn’t know the correct name, and figures that were not only derived via a dubious research methodology but which she also managed to confuse. (Raymond confused the respective percentages of the decreases in red light districts and the number of sex workers working in them.)
It speaks volumes then, that if a sex worker organisation commissions a research institute to do a survey, their results are denounced as “idiotic”, but when a government body commissions a research institute to do a survey, their results are viewed as “solid facts”, just so long as they support the desired narrative.
The “South Korean Model” is no more a “miracle” than the Swedish Model. The difference between the two is that the former states outright that it criminalises sex workers, while the latter claims it doesn’t.
Sex Workers demand: “Repeal the ‘Special Laws on Sex Trade’”
A constitutionality review of the Anti-Sex Trade Law, submitted in January 2013 by Criminal Law Judge OH Won Chan from the District Court in Northern Seoul, was scheduled to conclude six months later. A year on, however, no decision has been announced and the persecution of sex workers continues.
Since the adoption of the Anti-Sex Trade Law in 2004, sex workers have demanded to reform or repeal the law time and again, most famously in September 2011, when an estimated 1,500 sex workers gathered in Seoul to protest against the law.
If you want reliable information about the current conditions in South Korea’s sex industry, they are the people to go to.
(All images by Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)
When discussing two of her previous studies of sex trafficking, “Raymond provides no information on where she located the women, how she gained access to them, how diverse or representative they are, and whether they saw themselves as victims. Moreover, none of the interview questions [are] revealed to the reader. … It is a canon of academic research that authors situate their findings in the related scholarly literature to highlight similarities and differences in findings and build on prior work— something that Raymond opted not to do.”
“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
In 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.
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.
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”.
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”
“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.
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.
Please 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.
“I am a woman in prostitution. These “Are you doing well?” posters seem popular these days. One of my male clients proudly told me that he himself wrote one, too. He hit me with his fist for not “responding properly” when he told me that. I get beaten up because people think they can do anything with me once they pay me. I get verbally abused. I can’t protect myself against STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). I get harassed. They try to rape me once they know I am involved in prostitution. Some ask me to earn more money without knowing how I earn that money. I am being judged when I visit a gynecologist because I’m an unmarried woman. People scold women like me. They say, “You earn a lot for doing nothing.” But they don’t question men who are rich enough to pay several hundred thousand Won for a sexual service. Even after going through an abortion, I still need to earn money, and without taking a day off, I go off again today to sell sex. I don’t want to live like this anymore. I am not doing well. I am a human being with my own voice.”
This poster was put up in one of Seoul’s red light districts. It was removed the next day.
“I am neither a hooker, nor a prostitute or a slut. I’m a sex worker. Winter is especially harsh for sex workers. While there are parties everywhere to celebrate the end of the year, there is also an avalanche of crackdowns on brothels. More and more forceful crackdowns are taking place in order for the police to reach its performance targets.
Winter is always like walking on a tightrope. Sex workers’ workplaces are intruded, pictures of their naked bodies are taken as evidence, sex workers swallow (used) condoms to prevent them from being used as evidence against them, and the police beat up and choke sex workers to make them vomit the condoms back out.
This winter, when protesting railway workers are being fired and protesters are defined as illegal and violently persecuted, social obedience is assumed a normality and the weak are marginalised and discriminated against.
How can we be well in this cold, harsh place where it’s always winter?
We need to talk about the welfare of those who speak against unjustness now.
It is high time that we ask each other how we are doing, so that the winter doesn’t freeze us, so that the sex workers freely can talk of unjustifiable violence, and so that the marginalised can raise their voice.”
김연희 Yeoni Kim, Sex Workers’ Rights Activist, Seoul