What IS the Age of Consent in South Korea?

Considering the abysmal state of sex education in Korea, part and parcel of a society reluctant to admit that teenagers have sex or even sexuality, then the notion that it’s only thirteen sounds simply absurd.

Despite myself though, that’s precisely what I’m going to argue.

Not because that’s the consensus of English-language materials on the subject however. The vast majority never provide a source for their information on South Korea specifically (see here, here, here and here for some examples), and following the trail of those of that do almost invariably leads to a chart of the age of consent in various countries on Wikipedia, itself unsourced (but which has recently been edited as I’ll explain). Indeed, highlighting how problematic that makes them was my original intention in writing this post.

But first, the catalyst was this post at Omona They Didn’t!, a popular K-pop site. There, commenters discussed singer G-Dragon’s (지드래곤) concert performance below that featured simulated sex scenes, and which he is now being investigated for (but not yet prosecuted) because it had been rated suitable only for ages twelve and above (see here, here, here, here and here for the latest developments). Arguably somewhat arbitrary and hypocritical considering similar performances by other singers that haven’t been, the outrage is even stranger if the age of consent is thirteen, as pointed out there by a commenter with the handle “hallerness.”

(Update: See here for a detailed explanation of what exactly happened at the concert and the legal response, including an interview with the performer on the bed)

Queried on that low age by other commenters though, this blog got mentioned, and she emailed me asking for clarification. With apologies for the delay, this post is my response.

The first step in preparing it was simply to ask my students. But although their confusion was not entirely unexpected (whereas I’ve been writing about Korean sexuality for a long time now!), it still took a great deal of time and effort to explain what the concept was.

Not to imply that they’re stupid and/or ignorant of course, but that Korean adults needed an explanation at all is surely indicative of how alien the notion of teenage sexuality is here (or at least public discussion of it).

Once that was out of the way, then all said it was 18, like I also thought: after all, almost everything else sex-related is, including buying contraception, having access to or appearing in pornographic materials, and working in de facto sex-related industries. But they had no idea of what the Korean term was, hesitant suggestions including 법정나이 (literally “correct age”) and 법적나이제한 (correct age limit).

Turning to an online dictionary next then, I found 성관계 승낙 연령 (sexual relationship consent age) instead, with the explanation 합법적으로 성관계를 승낙할 수 있는 연령 (legally sexual relationship can consent to age). Paste it into Korean search engines, and you do get some results, although most appear to be about Canada (see a little later for why). Rather than wading through those though, I had no hesitation in turning to Matt at Gusts of Popular Feeling instead, who has written a great deal about teenage prostitution. And fortunately he does have a post in which he discusses this issue.

To be specific, it is about controversial rulings in two teenage prostitution cases in July 2001 and July 2009 (known in Korean as wonjo gyoje; 원조 교제). And while technically The Korea Times articles he quotes also do not mention any specific law, the age of consent being thirteen proved crucial in both cases, and I recommend reading his post in full to understand why.

From the 2001 article (link broken):

Under related laws, those who have sex with minors younger than 13 should be punished, regardless of whether the minors agreed or whether there was a financial deal. However, having sex with minors aged 13 or older, which does not involve financial deals, is not punishable if the minor consents.

And from the 2009 one:

In Korea, a person is not guilty of any crime for having sex with a minor aged 13 and over unless it is paid for or forced. Sex with those under the age of 13 is punishable even if it is carried out under mutual consent.

And Matt’s reaction was exactly the same as mine would have been. In particular:

….I found the age of consent shocking because I’d heard for so long that it was 19. Keep in mind that in the 1990s I think Canada’s age of consent went from 16 to 14 (or 12, if the other person was 14) which I also thought was quite low. It recently was put back up to 16 due to people considered predators on MySpace, etc. finding young girls to sleep with [James: which is what most Korean articles on 성관계 승낙 연령 were about]. Considering Korea’s internet culture and the fact so much wonjo gyoje is organized online, you’d think more would have been done by now….

…I’m surprised that the age of consent hasn’t been raised here, considering, as I mentioned, how much online activity is to be found with men looking to have sex with underaged girls, and how it’s routinely stated (even by the police on their website) that the age of consent is actually 19. Also, considering how in the late 1990s how youth sexuality and changing youth behavior (and rising crime, including sex crimes) was discussed as if teens were a virus infecting society, the low age of consent is perplexing – not looked at through a moral lens, but through the discourse in the media surrounding teens at the time (and to a lesser extent now).


Six months earlier, he wrote the following on this post of mine about a 14 year-old Korean model that posed nude, and I’d be interested if the second case in 2009 changed his mind:

…“However, having sex with minors aged 13 or older, which does not involve financial deals, is not punishable if the minor consents.” That contradicts the 19 year old age of consent the police say they adhere to, but if I have to choose between the police and a 7 year-old KT article, I’ll go with the police.

And when I wrote that post, the Wikipedia entry on the age of consent in South Korea gave it as 13n, citing this chart as a source but which in turn implies that the entry for South Korea comes only from “verified information from our correspondents,” given that the other sources cited there have no information about South Korea. Very recently though, the Wikipedia entry has been edited to “The age of consent in South Korea is not currently known,” and if you go on to examine the discussion about that this is what you find:

I’d hoped that that link to the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency would save me the trouble of following up Matt’s mentions of it myself, but unfortunately it doesn’t appear to be working, and besides which might be unreliable like “Truthfulchat” pointed out.

So, if Matt doesn’t read this post for himself first, then I’ll contact him for help with that source from the Korean police (I’ve given up trying to navigate their various sites), and besides which would be very grateful for his input. As I type this however, I’ve had my long-suffering wife looking on her computer for more Korean sources (her Korean is rather better than mine!), and yet after twenty minutes she has only been able to find this page from a 2007 book entitled Gyoyanginul Ouihan Saegyaesa (교양인을 위한 세계사), or World History for Civilized People by Kim Yun-tae:

With apologies for the small size, that states that in Korea the age of consent is 18 for men, and 16 for women!

In conclusion then, to put it mildly the jury is still out on what the age of consent in Korea is, and so this seems an opportune moment to throw open the floor to suggestions on how to continue from readers, which would be very much appreciated (not least by my wife!).

Before I do though, if you’re curious then the first two images above (source), then they are from the 2006 movie Dasepo Naughty Girls (다세포 소녀), which appears to be an excellent satire on Korean sexual mores; see here for an extensive review by – who else? – Matt. And finally, although they’re not related at all sorry, the more I wrote this post the more the following safe sex posters (NSFW) by James Jean kept coming to mind:

(Source: I Believe in ADV)

See BoingBoing for an extensive comments thread about them.

42 thoughts on “What IS the Age of Consent in South Korea?

    1. Come to think of it that’s never actually stated anywhere, but I’d be very surprised if all references weren’t to actual age.

      Regardless, I’ve consistently meant actual age in the post at least.

      Update: I’ve since learned that when age is used in any legal context, as in the reporting of crimes for example, the actual age is always used.


  1. It’s looking more and more like there is not a legally defined age of consent in Korea. It’s an imported notion, after all, so is it really that surprising?

    Thinking traditionally (that’s probably not the right word), or at least to a time before the idea of “age of consent” was imported, who would have been the people actually having sex, and what issues could that have raised? I would venture that it was so socially unacceptable for a woman to have sex before marriage – depending on how far back you go it was even unacceptable for them to leave their home for the most part – and that they lived with their parents until they were married, I think that there would have been no definition of “underage” sex for women. There was just no possibility for them to have sex until they were married unless they were prostitutes. I’m no expert on Choson-era Korean prostitution, so I couldn’t accurately say how old they were, or their state of legality, but I would say that’s a whole different issue.

    As for men, they also would be unlikely to have sex before marriage, unless with a prostitute. Of course, we know that such sexual encounters were fairly common, and also homosexual counters of a similar kind, but again, regardless of the age of the people involved I would say that this was beyond the reach of the law.

    So, my conclusion is that before this idea was imported, there was no underage sex in Korea, its nearly equivalent being unmarried sex instead. Now, as I’m no expert on law, Korean or otherwise, I don’t have the actual answer to this problem. But perhaps the traditional attitude of sex is all ok and private once you’re married was simply maintained in a legal sense even after the idea of an “age of consent” was brought in. Perhaps it wasn’t even considered necessary to create such a law, based on the idea that people could have sex when they were married, and everything else was wrong.

    My best guess, therefore, is that there is no legal age of consent, or that it is the same as the age at which one can get married, given above as 16 (Western or Korean?).

    As for where this concept of 13 came from, perhaps it was simply an interpretation of a non-existent or outdated law or legal insinuation, or just commonly held attitude, when such a situation arose. Perhaps whatever the judge declared in the above cases in actual fact became the law, as there wasn’t one previously.


    1. I don’t think the whole “unmarried sex is illegal sex” rather than age of consent idea will work, for a few reasons . . .

      Let me start by saying that the idea of an age of legal consent is almost certainly modern (which in Korea is strongly associated with imported, since the Japanese rewrote many of the legal codes based on European, primarily Germanic, law, and the Koreans themselves rewrote them under various influences following liberation).

      There is very good documentation for practice of families taking in child brides (minmyeonuri) during the Joseon period and lasting into the first half of the twentieth century, but the researchers who have studied the topic (and I’ll try to find the references – I’m hoping I have the articles here and didn’t leave them in the US) concluded that the practice was limited, unpopular, and associated only with very extreme poverty. The government did set age limits (widely ignored) but even so, Korean minmyeonuri were much older (six or seven) than their Chinese equivalents, who were generally sold as infants – and minmyeonuri, unlike other forms of bride aquisition, were generally sold by their families, and were essentially household servants.

      The marriages seemed particularly unsuccessful, and interviews with surviving child brides indicate that sex with their husbands usually didn’t begin until after menstruation. According to the Concise History of Korea, Joseon legislation set the minimum age for marriage at 15 for men, 14 for women. So certainly sexual maturity (signified by the appearance of secondary sexual characteristics, and for women, menstruation) seems to have strongly figured into things. Even if you were married at six, you still weren’t supposed to be having sex for many years, despite your status as wife.

      However, it is very important to note that when we imagine a “traditional” Korea (which often means, essentially, late Joseon era) we’re also imagining, by and large, the yangban culture. The ability to control the sexual and overal lives of women and regulate them so strongly that any premarital contact was unthinkable and impossible requires a great deal of wealth and power. Middle and lower class women whose labor was needed by their families could hardly be kept in such a state of isolation. So yes, upper class Joseon women probably had essentially no heterosocial contact before marriage, but her poor country cousin would have had opportunities and perhaps enticements, despite social conditioning.

      I also have to question whether such social conditioning permeated quite so thoroughly as we’re led to believe, and here I’ll point to some much more modern research done by Laurel Kendel in her very fine book, Getting Married in Korea, where she primarily examined marriage in working class families in Korea during the 70’s and 80’s. Her work demonstrates that for working class, laboring families, marriage was considered important for social standing, but did not go hand-in-hand with the beginning of sexual intercourse for women. In fact, she notes that for many women in the 70’s and 80’s, marriage was percipitated by pregnancy, or sometimes, well after the birth of a child. Korean couples regularly cohabitated without either a ceremony or legal marriage, often held ceremonies without legal marriage (just in case the marriage didn’t work out, making it easier to dissolve), and that ideas of courtship and marriage and sexual mores were tied strongly to a family’s social and economic status and aspirations.

      I’m also skeptical that men would have been similarly confined, with only prostitutes available for premarital encounters. I’m willing to bet that just like in much of the world, many young men had encounters with swomen outside their normative social sphere. You might not be getting it on with that pretty young yangban girl next door, but there’s probably not much to stop you from acting on your mutual attraction with the sweet merchant lady who comes by selling eggs. Remember, again, it’s really only yangban and wealthy women who were shut away from all eyes.

      That said, I don’t really think that anybody was being prosecuted or tried for premarital sexual encounters. A young upper class woman who found herself pregnant may well find herself expelled from the family or subject to dire social consequnces. A young man who got caught in sexual congress before marriage probably wouldn’t have faced much in the way of consequences. Even then, there were probably lots of ways of covering up such events, either through marrying the parties together, etc.

      In short, I’m not saying that the idea that age of marriage equals first sexual experience as an ideal is wrong . . . but that the ideal was probably only of interest and practicable to a small group of people during the Joseon era. If you were a yangban and interested in preserving/advancing your social status, it was probably worthwhile to control your daughter’s sexual exploits. If you were wealthy and/or aspiring to higher social status, it was probably also worthwhile. But for most Korean families, the effort and expense of keeping women in the family isolated may have been too costly to bother with, and it seems really unlikely that for men it was more than a moral goal.


      1. I absolutely agree with you that the issues I was discussing were largely confined to Yangban culture, and like I said, I’m not an expert on this particular topic.

        My comment was basically my long way of getting round to providing some answer to the titular question of James’ post – what is the age of consent in Korea (now)? I was reflecting back over traditional Korea as we can be fairly certain that, at least before the colonial period, there was no legal age of consent in Korea. The theory I was suggesting – not saying it’s accurate by any means – was that perhaps that never changed. The other things I discussed were basically connecting a few ideas together to form a possible explanation as to how and why that could have happened – that is, either it was unnecessary to create such a law once Korea came into contact with the idea of it, either during the colonial period or afterwards, or that there were sufficient standards of practice and attitude that functioned in a similar but not identical way. What I meant by that was that if young, unmarried people having sex was not prevalent enough or widely known enough, and cultural expectation was that sex would happen within marriage, it;s a possibility that the age at which someone could get married was the default age of consent, while there was no actual separate law to confirm or deny this.

        My answer to James’ question, then, was that this may never have changed – there may not be any legal age of consent at all. Just a theory, and to be honest I’d rather someone reading this post had the actual answer than me providing my non-researched, quite flimsy theories!


        1. I’m sorry, do you require a list of citations? I already listed two specific works in my reply, with the promise to provide references for more when I had the opportunity to look for them . . .


          1. I think you’ve misunderstood my reply, I’m really not trying to argue with you! I’m honestly glad for your insight in an area I know not all that much about. I just mean that to this point nobody on here has provided a definitive answer to the question: what is the age of consent in Korea?

            I was just positing a theory, and like I said, I’m aware it could well be way off the mark, it’s just speculation on my part.

            Like we both mentioned, the idea of a legal “age of consent” is imported, and therefore we can deduce that there must have been a time when there was no such law in Korea, followed by a time when Korea came into contact with this new idea, and at that point there would have been two possible branches. Either, the Korean government or rulers of the day could have created their own age of consent law, or they may have chosen not to, for whatever reason.

            I don’t have the answer, but what I wrote above is basically a couple of thoughts I had about how, maybe, they ended up not creating a specific law about this. As nobody has been able to show that there is one yet, I thought I’d keep the debate open with some new ideas.


  2. I was also thinking of Green Chair, and I remember interviews where he said that the film was based partially on true events . . .


  3. Another thing I got to thinking about after reading this post was that, particularly when I was a teenager, my own personal views about sex, and when it was acceptable etc etc were very much influenced by the fact that I knew it was illegal before 16.

    Of course, there were other factors, parents, education, peers and so on, but I’m nonetheless aware now that at that time the legal age of consent impacted on my attitudes, or more accurately, my attitudes developed as they did due to many factors, one of which was the age of consent.

    This would obviously have been down to fear of breaking the law, believing such a law must be there for a reason and so on. I don’t usually go into such personal topics in my blog comments, but the reason I brought this up was this: I wonder what impact widespread knowledge of a legal age of consent would have on Korean youths.

    James, you already mentioned a couple of posts of Popular Gusts on “compensated dating,” involving young girls having sex with much older men for money, we know statistically that lots of young teens take part in this, and other forms of sexual activity, in some would say a surprisingly large number of cases this begins at a very young age – 11 or 12 I think is the age mentioned in the Popular Gusts posts on the subject.

    As you’ve also mentioned, Korean sex education leaves a lot to be desired, and lack of knowledge certainly has an impact on such decisions by young people, but I wonder if an indisputable, reinforceable, and widely-known and understood law would make a difference. Because let’s face it, whatever the Korean age of consent is right now, it is not widely known or understood!

    Interested to read what other people think…


  4. The fact that no people living in S Korea, the police or anyone for that matter can come up with a definitive answer is downright disturbing. I would have thought that somewhere (the Justice Department?) there would be a definitive answer with a link to the applicable law(s).

    The fact that there are such wildly differing numbers is both bizarre and worrying


    1. Ditto. Almost as if it’s meant to be this way so old men can continue to get away with picking up way-underage girls.

      Like you said, James, “Not to imply that they’re stupid and/or ignorant of course, but that Korean adults needed an explanation at all is surely indicative of how alien the notion of teenage sexuality is here (or at least public discussion of it).” This is rather worrisome. The US certainly has major problems with accepting teenage sexuality, but I can’t even imagine it ever having no age of consent laws.

      Well done article. I am very curious now to see if anyone knows anything definite.


  5. I can only say that until reading this article I was pretty sure it’s 21 (korean age), as I was studying in Korea and that’s what people kept on repeating. Once even waitress came to me while I was in a pub talking with my Korean friend (she was 20 korean age at the time) and she whispeared to be carefull because my friend is underaged!
    I heard about age of 21 from several Koreans and never they mentioned any other age.


    1. Sorry for taking so long to reply everyone: it’s been a tough week, and I’ll make sure to catch up tomorrow. In the meantime though, are you sure you haven’t confused the age of consent with another age limit Avatar, like drinking maybe?


      1. And after all that, I can’t really add much to what has already been covered sorry, but I’m extremely grateful for all the information people have provided.

        One thing I will say though, is that regardless of its recent origins I do think that there is a definite law providing an age of consent out there somewhere. I haven’t had a chance to email Matt yet unfortunately (like I said, it’s been a tough week!), but given all his work on teenage prostitution then I’m sure that he can think of further examples (that I missed) in which that played some role. And regardless my next step is to examine Korean newspapers on the case – at least the one from July 2009 – both to find out what Korean terms they use and to get more information, as the Korea Times is notoriously unreliable.

        Depending on what I find, I’ll try to write a follow-up post in the next 2 weeks or so then!


  6. Well… to think about it now, legal age for drinking might have been what the waitress meant. I don’t remember, is it 21 (Korean age)? But I was drinking so many times with my male friends who also were under 21 and that never was the case. After all, in Suwon pubs where always full of folks that were only 18 (western age) – so that would mean that even if it’s not legal for them, they don’t care about it much.

    Though, I’m sure that in other situations we talked about age of consent not any other.

    [A bit out of main topic: here in Poland, most of the people are dead sure age of consent is 16. I’ve actually don’t remember anyone to say correct one, which is 15. I had it in my law classes, this is easily to be found in civil law and that’s also what mentioned list of age for different countries states]


      1. No need to apologize. Actually, I’m pretty certain that the drinking age is 18 too (I wrote that last comment when I should have been in bed!). But I’m afraid that that means I really have no idea what age limit those people you spoke to were referring to sorry.


  7. U.S. citizens should be aware of the extraterritorial application of the Protect Act, which puts the age of consent at 18 anywhere on the globe, with anyone.

    Other countries have similar laws that expats should be aware of.


    1. Well, not that I’m about to quote Wikipedia on you after writing this post, but that relatively high age surprised me, so I did a quick search, and found that the age of consent varies from state to state. Not that that necessarily means that the law you refer to is affected though.

      Regardless, I doubt that the law would be a practical concern for any U.S. citizens reading this blog of course(!), and I find the thought of travelling to another country to seek sex with those whom would be considered minors in your own country simply appaling. But despite that, I am still personally very much against the prosectution of someone for something considered lawful in the country in which it occured, however odious. Not that smoking marijuana (no pun intended) is quite the same thing, but I was amazed when a Korean tourist was arrested in Seoul for doing so in Amsterdam 2 months earlier for instance.


      1. James, the age of consent in the US does indeed vary from state to state. But I’m not talking about a law that applies to Americans in the States however. I’m talking about an extremely rare extraterritorial law that applies to Americans outside of the States.

        It sets the age of consent at 18 for Americans regardless of the age of consent in the country. And yes it work exactly as you describe with Koreans getting busted for smoking pot where in Amsterdam where pot is legal.

        Americans can and will be prosecuted for having sex with what the Protect Act considers a minor. The U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) teams are stationed around the globe and monitor abuse situations. Obviously Korea is not a high priority area.

        But I personally worked on the issue in Cambodia and watched Kent Frank be released by the Cambodian authorities only to be picked up by US authorities and rendered to the US where he is now serving a what could be a 30 year sentence in prison. The girl was 15.

        See here for news: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/01/18/international/asia/18CAMB.html

        See here for ICE info on the case:

        The US is not alone in promulgating such laws. The message I would like to your readers with is not a moral one. But simply to be aware – very aware – that it’s not impossible to be looking at serious time behind bars in your home country for what is perfectly legal in another country.

        The 17-year “pro” working the pole at some upscale Pattaya strip joint, a high school girl in Seoul that has a love relationship with some misguided foreigner, any of these acts could land you in cell next to Frank in a U.S. federal pen for a very, very long time.

        P.S. Your argument “against the prosectution of someone for something considered lawful in the country in which it occured, however odious.” has been brought up in court on the Clark and Frank case. Strong arguments for unconstitutionality were made. The argument failed.

        Again, I’m not interested in a moral debate here I’m just telling you how it is. I’ve watched it happen with my own eyes.


      2. I heartily agree that the whole idea of one’s government requiring you to follow a certain age of consent regardless of the laws of the country you are in iis absolutely ridiculous. Going by what I see on the web, this seems to be accepted by a lot of people as quite appropriate. I find this acceptance to be quite disturbing.
        Virtually everywhere has laws against under-18 prostitution or rape, or penetration of pre-pubescent kids so extraterritorial sex laws are redundant for those reasons. Also, it’s quite legitimate for a government to outlaw the organizing of child sex tours from its own territory, because it is activity that takes place WITHIN that country’s borders and therefore within its jurisdiction.
        It makes me wonder what the real purpose of these laws is. Is one reason to get people used to the idea of a one-world government? Before you laugh your head off just hear me out on this. At first sight, it would seem that national sovereignty is being asserted by these laws and that if anything, extraterritorial sex tourism laws assert a greater level of national sovereignty.
        There are problems with this interpretation, though. Firstly, you’ve got to wonder what kind of claim any nation state has over a citizen, subject or permanent resident that it would impose such laws. You have to ask whether they are plain reasonable or not.AOC’s are statutes and therefore somewhat arbitrary, like traffic laws. Why not have extraterritrial speeding laws that apply regardless of the laws of the country you are in? Why not have all kinds of other laws that have to, or supposedly have to, be followed anywhere in the universe? Do you see what I’m saying? It gets people used to the whole concept.
        I’ve also seen something on the web about the PROTECT Act violating the commerce clause, or something of that nature. Lawyers, feel free to flesh that one out.
        If extraterritorial sex laws are unconstitutional, then obviously they undermine the true system of government within the US and for all I know other countries as well. An unwarranted federal intrusion on private behaviour that gets people used to the idea of following a certain statute anywhere they happen to be? Move along, nothing to see here…
        I’m not saying these laws alone are going to usher in a one-world government but they do represent a step along the way. Every little bit helps.
        On the other hand, these laws may not actually be enforceable as far as the double criminality side of things is concerned. As far as I know, every single conviction anywhere in the world has involved activities that were illegal in the country in which they occurred. In other words these activities were prosecutable anyway. I don’t believe there’s t been a single conviction based on an activity outlawed by extraterritorial laws that was legal in the country in which it occurred.


  8. I did not read the post about the Clark and Frank case until after I posted my comment. However, CLark appeared to breaking Cambodian law and another man, Gary Evans Jackson, was charged under US law but was deported by Cambodian authorities so presumably he could have bee =n prosecuted under their law. In fact, according to the NYT article all men mentioned were charged under Cambodian law or deported by Cambodian authorities.The same goes with the Kent Frank case as described in the article at US Immigration and Custom Enforcement.
    It is true you’re innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but the Cambodian police did have enough evidence to arrest him and, presumably, he would have been found guilty of much the same crimes(MInus the foreign travel but) if he were tried in Cambodia. He may even have been give a longer sentence.
    B, I don’t mean to be rude but I dont’ know where you get your information from.
    I wonder if a couple of other reasons for these laws might be
    1) To make an example of stupid chumps who aren’t on the inside and no-one will feel sorry for anyway, and
    2) To provide a haven for insiders who are caught in such a compromising situation that they simply have to be prosecuted and convicted. These laws allow them to serve their time, if need be, in a nice cosy US or Canadian or German prison rather than some third-world hellhole. Just a thought.


  9. @ Booya

    I hadn’t checked back on comments here, so sorry for the delayed reply. As for where I get my information I actually worked on the Frank case. But all the info is public.

    Both the Clark case and the Frank case are US cases, not Cambodian. Both men were procecuted under US law (the PROTECT Act I mentioned) and both are locked up in US prisons.

    Here are the case citations for you. Feel free to look them up.

    UNITED STATES of America v. Kent FRANK, No. 04-20778-CR-JORDAN, May 4, 2007.

    The case begins as so:

    “A grand jury charged Kent Frank, an American citizen, with violating 18 U.S.C. § 2423(c) on five occasions. According to Counts 1-5 of the indictment, Mr. Frank traveled from the United States to Cambodia from September of 2003 to January of 2004 and engaged in “illicit sexual conduct” in that country with various females under the age of 18. This order addresses Mr. Frank’s motion to dismiss Counts 1-5.

    Entitled “Engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places,” § 2423(c) was enacted by Congress in April of 2003. It provides as follows:

    Any United States citizen or alien admitted for permanent residence who travels in foreign commerce, and engages in any illicit sexual conduct with another person shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 30 years, or both.

    As it pertains to this case, the term “illicit sexual conduct” means “any commercial sex act (as defined in [18 U.S.C. § ] 1591) with a person under 18 years of age.” See § 2423(f)(2). In turn, § 1591(c)(1) defines “commercial sex act” as “any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person.” There is a built-in affirmative defense for cases involving a “commercial sex act.” Under § 2423(g), a defendant may establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he *1355 “reasonably believed that the person with whom [he] engaged in the commercial sex act had attained the age of 18 years.”

    Mr. Frank argues principally that Congress, in enacting § 2423(c), exceeded its powers under the Foreign Commerce Clause, U.S. Const. Art. I, § 8, cl. 3. He also presents other challenges, including the assertion that § 2423(c) violates international law because it fails to recognize that the age of consent in Cambodia is 15, and the contention that the extra-territorial application of § 2423(c) violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

    In an earlier order, issued prior to trial, I denied Mr. Frank’s motion to dismiss Counts 1-5. This order sets out the bases for that ruling. I conclude that, insofar as it criminalizes commercial sex (i.e., prostitution) with minors, § 2423(c) is constitutional under the Necessary and Proper Clause, U.S. Const. Art. VI, § 8, cl. 18,FN1 and that all of Mr. Frank’s other challenges lack merit.”

    Read the rest for yourself.

    As for the Clark case. See U.S. v. Clark, 435 F.3d 1100, C.A.9 (Wash.),2006. (January 25, 2006)

    The case begins:

    “In this appeal we are confronted with a question of first impression regarding the scope of Congress’s power under the Foreign Commerce Clause.FN1 At issue is whether Congress exceeded its authority “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations,” U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 3, in enacting a statute that makes it a felony for any U.S. citizen who travels in “foreign commerce,” i.e. to a foreign country, to then engage in an illegal commercial sex act with a minor. 18 U.S.C. § 2423(c). We hold that Congress acted within the bounds of its constitutional authority.

    . . .

    Michael Lewis Clark, a seventy-one year old U.S. citizen and military veteran, primarily resided in Cambodia from 1998 until his extradition in 2003. He typically took annual trips back to the United States and he also maintained real estate, bank accounts, investment accounts, a driver’s license, and a mailing address in this country. Following a family visit in May 2003, Clark left Seattle and flew to Cambodia via Japan, Thailand, and Malaysia. He was traveling on a business visa that he renewed on an annual basis.”

    Read the rest on your own.


  10. @Booya
    Thanks for the reply.You appear to know your stuff.
    I recognise these men were tried under US law. I never said they weren’t. I was saying that they presumably could have been tried under Cambodian law because they were handed over to US custody by Cambodian authorities, and the only reason that happened was that there was enough reason for the Cambodian authorities to arrest them in the first place. They wouldn’t have been able to arrest them if there wasn’t.
    These cases still don’t test double criminality.
    Also, there remains the issue of whether the commerce clause really allows prosecution if significant financial inducement is not involved.


  11. @B,

    It’s easy enough to tack sexual conduct with a minor outside the USA onto a charge sheet minus any question of payment or local law, but the question is whether this carries any real weight. The real question is what happens if or when someone goes to, say, Cambodia and has consenting sexual relations with a 15 y.o. that don’t involve financial inducement. The local authorities take no interest, and in my view it is extremely unreasonable for US authoritires to do so. It’s not only unreasonable-this itself is, or should be, the crucial point in any defense, it’s also unknown, to me, whether charges have ever been brought in a situation like this, where someone has not charged with breaking local law but still faces charges at home. As far as I know this still has never happened anywhere.


  12. @B

    To clarify, by ” breaking local law” I mean “accused of activities that are against lthe host country’s law.” This would not necessarily be a formal indictment but would still involve activities that are illegal in the other country as well as under foreign sex tourism laws. Come to think of it, I wonder how common it is to have someone indicted only under their own country’s sex tourism laws and not under local law. I doubt this would be common, and as I have repeatedly stressed, I am not aware of any situations in which someone has been prosecuted, successfully or otherwise, for activities that were not illegal under the host countiry’s own laws but which violated their own country’s sex tourism laws.


  13. Finally checked back.

    I can’t really speak with any direct knowledge to anywhere but Cambodia, but in Frank’s case as I recall he was released from a Cambodian prison and a free man. In fact he left the country and went elsewhere but not the U.S. It wasn’t the Cambodians who turned him over. He was picked up unawares coming into the U.S. on a flight. So I think you can count him as an example of “a situation . . . where someone has not charged with breaking local law but still faces charges at home”.

    But in some of these countries “the law” is a pretty slippery thing. There’s not a lot of transparency and stuff is vaguely defined like “no immoral conduct”, etc. It’s hard to pin point a “sex tourism” law. They can get you if they want and if you have enough cash you can get out of it.

    You said: “The real question is what happens if or when someone goes to, say, Cambodia and has consenting sexual relations with a 15 y.o. that don’t involve financial inducement.”

    Yeah, great question. And the answer is probably nothing because the ICE guys who work on these cases in foreign countries are not out to bust ass for no reason. You may find a corrupt local cop who just wants to shake you down though. But in that case maybe the girl/boy is 25 and he just tells you he/she’s underage. There are no ID cards. Many Cambodians are illiterate and some don’t know their birth-dates, the Khmer rouge left a lot of orphans.

    Anyhow, the US law is the law and there is some deeply questionable moralizing that went into it, but on the other side there are some son-of-a-bitch predators (though not as many as some would have you believe) out there. The ICE guys I met were consummate professionals who knew the score I’m glad they are the ones enforcing it.

    If you want to get into some of the problematic aspect of the US position on overseas prostitution and trafficking I highly recommend reading Prof. Steinfatt. For example:

    Click to access Trfciiif.pdf

    That’s one piece of a 3 part paper.

    He’s also got a very good book on prostitution in Thailand:



  14. @B

    It’s been a while-sorry about that.

    We seem to be more in agreement than I first thought: In your opinion, non-commercial consenting sex by US citizens or residents abroad that involves a partner younger than 18 but which is allowed by the host country would probably be overlooked.”…the ICE guys who work on these cases in foreign countries are not going to bust ass for no reason.”

    The problem I have with that is that there’s still a possibility they could come after someone who does is if they’re looking for scalps or if a complaint is made. There’s nothing in principle to stop them. I don’t want to seem harsh, but ia 15y.o. French teen has no right to complain in a US court if a US citizen has non-commercial consenting sex with him/her in France. Fifteen might be too low, the US citizen might be a scumbag, and I might be full of sympathy for the kid, but enough’s enough. We don’t live in a perfect world.

    I am not greatly concerned about the extraterritorial pursuit of people buying sex from under-18’s. I am still not entirely sure if it’s constitutional, but I don’t much care.

    Yemen allegedly has an AOC of nine for girls. If there are countries where the AOC is under 12, some sort of international pressure could be applied to them. That could go some way to preventing people taking advantage of local lAOC when this is very, very low. How low is high enough? I pick the figure of twelve because it was the common law AOC in England, at least for girls, and is higher than much of the US until the late 19th centuries. To me it represents the absolute lowest reasonable AOC and very few counries have an AOC that low. As I understand it, lower than 14 is rare.

    Please note that I am referring to general AOC, not close-in-age exceptions. Most places ban the use of under-18’s in prostitution and porn even if the general AOC is a lot younger than 18.

    However, and I don’t quite know why, I really draw the line at the government telling me what to do outside the country when iit doesn’t involve money, pornography or violating local law. It may seem very strange with everything else that’s going on in the world, but I believe America became a considerably less free country when the provisions for no sex with under 18’s outside US territory came into effect in 2003. I have no skeletons in my closet as far as this goes, I just think it’s plain stupid.

    There are child sex tourism monsters who are an extreme danger to their fellow human beings and need to be locked up for life. However, in addition to the simple “principle of the thing” I also object to the insane harshness of certain aspects of the Protect Act. How many years can someone be sentenced to prison for for having an interstate or international relationship with a 17 y.o.? And no statute of Limitations, so that even the most mild infraction is lumped in with the most heinous cruelty?

    I still stand by my contention that this kind of legislation, at least the double criminality part, is a small but definite component of a push for undemocratic one-world government-not that Mr. Frank or Mr. Clark were thinking of that when they were doing what they were doing, of course. I understand the Protect Act was sponsored by those CFR/Bilderburg loving internationalists, the Clintons. Imagine that-one idiotic bill sponsoring another.

    Ditto for the provision in the Act that prosecuted non-commercial consenting sex between a resident and a non-resident of a US state if one partner is less than eighteen. The federal government has no authority to do that.


  15. Booya said: “I understand the Protect Act was sponsored by those CFR/Bilderburg loving internationalists, the Clintons. Imagine that-one idiotic bill sponsoring another. Imagine that-one idiotic bill sponsoring another.”

    Actually, it was President Bush who signed the PROTECT Act into law in April 2003. In his speech to the UN on 23 Sept. 2003 he spent a lot of time talking about the “evils of sex tourism” as well as the evils of terrorism.

    “There is a special evil in the abuse and exploitation of the most innocent and vulnerable. The victims of sex trade see little of life before they see the very worst of life, an underworld of brutality and lonely fear. Those who create these victims, and profit from their suffering, must be severely punished. Those who patronize this industry debase themselves and deepen the misery of others. And governments that tolerate this trade are tolerating a form of slavery.

    This problem has appeared in my own country, and we are working to stop it. The Protect Act, which I signed into law this year, makes it a crime for any person to enter the United States, or for any citizen to travel abroad for the purpose of sex tourism involving children. The Department of Justice is actively investigating sex tour operators and patrons, who can face up to 30 years in prison.”



  16. B,
    I realise Bush 2 was President a t the time but I also read that the Clintons sponsored the law, whatever “sponsored” means exactly. I suppose it means promoting it in a high-profile way and formally putting their names to it.
    When I commented on no statute of limitations for the Protect Act, I was trying to make the point that some things warrant a statute of limitations and some don’t. This is apart from considerations of constitutionality per se.



  17. The age is 21! I’m half Korean. And my mother is fully Korean. I just asked her. I’m not sure, but I think to be able to drink is a younger age than 21. But to be married in Korea is 21. There is even a movie about a Korean lady who had sex with a minor. The movie title is Green Chair. The minor is 19 years old for a majority of the movie and he was considered a minor.


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