In 2011, the National Assembly of South Korea revised laws surrounding child pornography to cover materials featuring “creations of persons who can be perceived as minors” in sexual situations, expanding the definition of illegal practices to include the perceptions of viewers on the age of the subjects. Therefore, an adult actor playing the role of a minor or the creator of animated or drawn content that features — or could be perceived to feature — a minor could face serious child pornography charges, with consequences such as residence registration and employment restriction. The law essentially treats consensual adults who engage in or create fantasy material that may or may not intentionally give the impression of underage sex as legitimate sex offenders.
Although the law was updated after a series of high-profile cases of child rape and murder, it does little to protect the actual victims of sexual abuse, instead targeting adults. In 2012, there were 2,224 investigations conducted in Korea for alleged violations of this law, which showed a significant increase from previous years. Most of the suspects were female, largely in their early 20s. Many of them were indicted as sex offenders based on their appearance: Intentionally or not, these women created the impression they were underage.
Kyung Sin Park, Director of Open Net and law professor at Korea University posted an insightful translation of this new law, likening it to the thought policing seen in Minority Report. Park explains that while the original intent of the laws was to prevent the visual recording of a minor engaged in or simulating a sexual act, the punishable offenses have grown to include photographs, drawings, and virtual child pornography, in which no minors were involved.
Park explains that a major difference in this Korean law from other similar pornography regulations is how it treats imaginary acts of sexual contact with a child the exact same as authentic sexual abuse:
The law treats an imaginary sex with an imaginary, non-existent child the same as sex with a real child. A cartoonist who authors a work and has a child protagonist in it engage in sex and a person who video records a real child’s sexual act equally face a MINIMUM 5-year sentence.
Park expands upon the affects this law has on Koreans caught downloading Japanese adult videos that feature school-uniform cosplay and animated cartoons with illegal content. Not only are they required to register as sex offenders, but they will face life-long consequences and stigma associated with the charges, such as difficulty sustaining employment:
Many young people caught fresh into or out of college cry their hearts out facing the prospect of the hiring/registration hell for 10-20 years. Where uploading pirated animations to earn money from the web is a past time unfortunately popular among poor youths, the story goes, the law supposed to protect youths ended up suffocating many youths’ future hopes.
In May of 2013, Judge Byun Min-Sun filed a request for the constitutional review of the Child and Minors Sex Protection Act, and by June, one of the videos featuring school-uniforms had been cleared of the child pornography label. With judges requesting that charges be reclassified as obscenity, prosecutors are deferring indictment, thus protecting the defendant from further prosecution on the charge. Hopefully this trend will continue, allowing safe, sane, and consensual adult behaviors freedom from life-altering legal punishment.
You can read the entirety of Kyung Sin Park’s commentary here.
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Casey Gilly is a comics journalist and cat enthusiast living in Oakland, CA where she eats tacos and plays ukulele.