A district court judge on Thursday requested the Constitutional Court to review the constitutionality of a law punishing voluntary sex workers.
“Sexual contact between adults, unless it involves coercion or extortion, should be left for the parties to decide in view of their right to self-determination,” Judge Oh Won-chan of Seoul Northern District Court argued in the request. “The current law does not reflect a change in social views that the state should not interfere in such matters.”
Subject to the review is the clause 1, article 21, of the nation’s criminal law which stipulates that both the purchasing and selling of sex carry a penalty of up to 1 year in prison or a fine of up to 3 million won. Clause 6 of the same law gives exemption to those forced into prostitution, leaving only voluntary prostitutes subject to the punishment.
The criminalization of prostitution itself or punishment of sex purchasers are not under review.
This is the first time that the law on prostitution, enacted in September 2004, has been brought to the Constitutional Court.
“There is little evidence that punishing sex workers is effective in curbing the sex trade. Also, they are some legal issues regarding how to draw the line between forced or voluntary prostitution,” Judge Oh added.
The request for a constitutional review came alongside a trial of a 41-year-old woman accused of selling sex for 130,000 won in July last year.
The Constitutional Court now must decide within 180 days and the original trial will be suspended until its verdict is out.
Prostitution is illegal in Korea, although laws are not as strictly enforced as other crimes. Authorities occasionally crack down on brothels, room salons, massage parlors and other places where the sex trade occurs.
The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which regularly conducts a joint crackdown on such places with police, said Friday that a total of 236 were nabbed in 2012, up 30.4 percent from a year ago. Of them 74 are pimps, 88 sex workers and 50 sex purchasers.
Estimates on the country’s sex industry vary widely, but a 2009 study conducted by the Korea Women’s Development Institute put it at 14 trillion won in 2007, roughly 1.6 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.
By Lee Sun-young (firstname.lastname@example.org