Washington International Law Journal


Ji Hye Kim


Prostitution has been rampant in South Korea, exposing tens of thousands of women to abuse and violence. Beginning in 2000, however, women’s rights organizations spearheaded a legal reform campaign to change the nation’s prostitution policy. They drafted and proposed two bills to the National Assembly, which subsequently enacted them as laws. In passing the new legislation, the South Korean government vowed to eliminate prostitution as well as protect victims of exploitation and violence in the sex industry. However, the legislation fails to achieve these goals due to inherent inadequacies in the language and structure of the laws. This shortfall arises because the government failed to adequately discuss the breadth and depth of prostitution’s impact on Korean men and women. Consequently, the legislation retains a discriminatory attitude towards prostituting women and still criminalizes them unless they can prove their victim status. It is doubtful that these provisions can protect abused women in the sex industry, particularly when they face so many barriers in proving their victim status. To remedy these problems, the South Korean government must reconsider and rework its prostitution policy so that it is more protective of women engaged in prostitution and more appropriate for Korean society. It must also rethink enforcement mechanisms to allow prostituting women to seek help when necessary.

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