A Korean man in his 40s ejaculated into his female colleague’s coffee tumbler six times. A male college student smeared his semen onto a female student’s sneakers. A graduate student mixed his sperm and spit into a female student’s coffee as “revenge” for rejecting his advances.
Most men who perpetrated these acts walked away with fines, partly because ejaculating or smearing one’s semen onto someone’s belongings does not classify as a sex crime in South Korea. But politicians and lawmakers like Back Hye-ryun are seeking to change that and fight what they call “semen terrorism.”
Back, from South Korea’s ruling Democratic Party, last month proposed amendments to current laws around sex crimes. Speaking to VICE World News, she highlighted severe flaws in the Korean legal system that failed to protect women against such acts, which under the current code are merely treated as property damage.
“Sex crimes need to be interpreted from the victim’s point of view. In South Korea, there’s a strong tendency to put suspects in the center of all cases, which should change,” Back said. “There’s no law that can punish people who commit evolving sexual crimes at the moment and the penalties are not strong enough at all either.”
Back cited a high-profile case in May that saw a male perpetrator being let off with a $2,500 fine for “damaging” his female colleague’s coffee tumbler six times over the course of half a year.
“Untypical sex crimes are on the rise, but our law cannot keep up with the speed and diversity,” she said.
“There is a need for broad recognition of sexual offenses to protect victims from crime. On top of it, it would be better for criminals too since they can get protected from committing further crimes through education or probation.”
“There’s no law that can punish people who commit evolving sexual crimes at the moment and the penalties are not strong enough at all either.”
One of the biggest economies in Asia, South Korea may be seeing advances in movements that empower women, but that has prompted pushback in the male-dominated society. This bubbled to the surface during the recent Tokyo Olympics, when a South Korean gold-medal archer was viciously attacked online by men who didn’t like her short hair.
Adding to the debate on abuse is the pervasive problem of digital sex crimes. In a 105-page report in June, Human Rights Watch highlighted a culture of female objectification and victim-blaming in Korea and “legislative gaps” in the law, which were often accompanied by sluggish law enforcement.
Correction: An earlier version of this story suggested that a man who served a woman a cup of coffee mixed with his sperm and spit was only fined. He was sentenced to prison for a series of non-sex crimes. We regret the error.