Korean Law Demystified!

The Confusing (Legal) Age of (Sexual) Consent in South Korea

[Example Situation]

A female hagwon teacher (age 31) slowly befriends a male student (age 13) via exchanging text messages for 6 months. The two end up having sex (in her officetel) a total of 4 times. His mother finds out and reports the teacher to the police. The text message exchanges reveal they both had genuine affection for each other, and the relationship was never forced in any way. Is the hagwon teacher likely to be punished under Korean law?

A: Yes. In a similar (appellate court) case recently, the Incheon District Court found the female hagwon teacher guilty of sexual molestation under the (Korean) Child Welfare Act. She’s been sentenced to 6 months in prison (no probation). News link here.

I have summarized below what I know (so far):

– If partner was under 13: Definitely a crime. Rape even if totally consensual. (See CRIMINAL ACT.)

– If partner was ages 13-18: A crime only if “authority/deception” was used as a means to have sex. (See ACT ON THE PROTECTION OF CHILDREN AND JUVENILES AGAINST SEXUAL ABUSE.)

– If partner was ages 13-17: Even purely consensual sex can/will be interpreted as sexual molestation, which is a crime. (See CHILD WELFARE ACT. See Article 17.)

Note 1: All of the above laws coexist.

Note 2: All ages are in int’l/normal age, not Korean age.

Note 3: In order to constitute a crime, you should (reasonably) have known your partner’s age.

TLDR: I don’t think we can go on saying the age of consent in South Korea is 13. (Well, it would be dangerous…)

Many times in law, conclusions are (first) reached at an instinctive-level –> then existing laws are investigated, to (somehow) support that “right” conclusion. This is also why seemingly moribund laws should never be scoffed at.

Have a great weekend! 🙂

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