Korean Law Demystified!

Consensual Sex with a Minor (in Korea)


In South Korea, if you have consensual sex with someone:

[19 or older] –> it’s not a crime.

[13-18] –> it’s not a crime unless you did so “by authority/deception.”

[12 or younger] –> it’s a crime (unless you had no way of knowing).

Note 1 : Ages in int’l age, not Korean age.

Note 2 : The age of majority in Korea is 19.

Note 3 : In Korea, prostitution is a crime regardless of age.

A Recent Case: Recently, the Seoul High Court acquitted a nursing hagwon administrator (male; age 44) who had sex with a hagwon student (female; age 17). The lower court had acquitted him also.

The prosecution’s argument: The man promised the student to buy her things and help her land a job (if she went out with him). She acceded only out of fear she would be kicked out. (FYI, she was from a single-parent family, and she was attending the hagwon for free.) Therefore, her “consent” was, in fact, forced consent. “Forced” because it’d be unrealistic to expect someone under those circumstances to have said no. And if so, one could say she was essentially coerced into having sex with the man. Note: In a nutshell, this is what “by authority” means.

Why the acquittal: In the court’s view, she could have said no. Also: 1) She often met up with him even after having sex; 2) It took a while before officially reporting him as a rapist; 3) In court, she wasn’t able to answer/testify as was written in the indictment. In short, her incomplete testimony alone was nowhere enough to satisfy “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” Note: Even when a pupil is involved, it’s not an open-and-shut case. Remember, it’s not “by position of authority.”

DID YOU KNOW? In the UK, a soccer player named Adam Johnson was recently found guilty and sentenced to 6 years in prison for having sex with a 15-year-old female fan. (They say the age of consent in the UK is 16. Had it been in Korea, he probably would have been found not guilty.)

In Korea, the courts seem to interpret “by authority” as: “The victim was psychologically so overwhelmed by the situation that even though he/she may have given consent, it was more out of fear than free will.” So in our case, the prosecution would have needed proof (something along the lines that) she had actually loathed, feared and tried to avoid the man. But reports say, she regularly dined with him, attended hagwon as usual, and even called him oppa. Her unreliable testimony (in court) did not help either. The court had no choice maybe.

Yesterday, the Constitutional Court of Korea ruled as unconstitutional a piece of law which had prohibited all sex offenders (whose victim was ages 13-18) from working for/in any juvenile-related organization for 10 years. While the law may seem fair, the Court’s main reasoning was that applying such a ban across the board was too harsh. They felt such a ban automatically assumed that all such offenders (w/o exception) are potential recidivists (even after treatment). What’s more, slapping such a ban on all offenders regardless of severity of the offense was unfair too.

Thanks for reading!

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