Men Can’t Get Raped in Korea? (Updated)

( Source )

But in Korea at least, perhaps the most appropriate revenge would have been to inflict the same back on the rapists? For I’ve just been shocked to learn that legally speaking, men can’t actually be the victims of rape here.

In fairness however, Korea is by no means the only jurisdiction that strictly defines rape as non-consensual penile penetration of the vagina, so perhaps my reaction was quite naive. But still, recall that not only is spousal rape not a crime, and that the Korean Bar Association remains opposed to its criminalization, but that there is also endemic sexual violence within the military.  So it’s not like some decidedly archaic notions of sexual identity and rape don’t still exist both in theory and in practice in Korea.

Accordingly, the fact that males can’t be raped is not so much highlighted as taken for granted in the webtoon Judge Byeon Hak-do’s Puzzling Law Questions (알쏭달쏭 변학도 판사의 법률이야기) below, instead focusing on the question of if a rapist of a male to female transsexual would be charged with rape or indecent assault instead, concluding that as the victims are not considered women in Korean society then it would be the latter. And indeed as of 2006, only 25 transsexuals had been successful (and 26 denied) in their applications to change their legal gender, easily the most famous being entertainer Harisu (하리수) and model Choi Han-bit (최한빛) below:

( Sources: T-L, T-R, B-L, B-R )

That figure was taken from “Hallyoo, Ballyhoo, and Harisu: Marketing and Representing the Transgendered in South Korea” in Complicated Currents: Media Flows, Soft Power, and East Asia (2010), which I highly recommend for those of you more interested in the current state of transgender and transexual rights in Korea (full disclosure: this blog is mentioned in it!). As for the webtoon itself, unfortunately it raises more questions than answers, and the last 2 panels in particular make little sense, and I think are supposed to be a joke. But I’m not going to write it off because of the medium (quite the opposite), and unlike the pig-ignorant, racist, and anti-Semitic comic history books that some of you may recall from 2007, the webtoon series as a whole does at least seem to be written by someone who knows the subject, probably even by a judge himself.

Below, I’ve literally translated all of it (including all the sounds!), adding notes where necessary. But as always, I welcome and appreciate any corrections:

Comic #2. In the case of the rape of a man who has had a sex change operation to become a woman, does that [actually] carry the charge of rape?

Heo-poong, we are going to launch a product called “Eong-bbong”, and want you to come up with a marketing plan.

What’s an Eong-bbong?

Eong-bbong: a device to create an S-line by putting it under a skirt or pants.

How would wearing that feel?

“Eong-bbong” is actually quite a good name: it comes from a combination of the “eong” in eongdeongee (엉덩이), or bottom, and “bbong” (뽕), not unlike “boing” in English.

Meanwhile, when Heo-poong asks how wearing that would feel, he means literally or physically, not in the psychological sense of what it would be like to be a woman having her S-line ogled.

Okay then, let’s try becoming a woman!

Hee (Your guess is as good as mine)


Syoong! (a quick moving sound, in this case through a magic portal used in all the other stories)


Cheok! (a grabbing sound?)

What’s this?

Your bottom is so pretty…

Hweik! (used for something sudden and abrupt)



You bastard, you want to eat rice and beans (prison food) by raping someone?


Beonjjok (Flash)

Go back to Judge Byeon Hag-do and try asking about what the crime of rape is!

GGudeok, ggdeok (Nod, Nod)

What? You say you almost got raped??

According to article 297 of the criminal code, a person who rapes a woman by violence or threat of violence gets a jail term of at least 3 years.

So in other words, the only people that can be raped are women?

Woman, then Syak! (quick swishing sound?)

If so, what are women?

Here in article 297, all females are referred to: adult women, teenagers and girls, married women, and unmarried women.

Who doesn’t know that?!! (lit. Where is someone that doesn’t know that?!!)

A man who dresses as a woman is only a woman on the surface. But for someone to be called [really be] a woman, they need to have the heart, mind, and body of a woman.

The Korean maum (마음) is often translated just as “mind” in English, but if you just ask Koreans where it is located then they’ll usually say the chest, let alone often use it in a “heart” sense. I don’t think there is any real distinction between them in Korean.

However, what about the case of a man who has had a sex change operation and thinks of himself as a woman?

Let’s have a look for any precedents.

Chwa-ra-rak~ (the sound of flicking through pages?)

If Miss “I am a woman” was a man and has a sex change operation…

When I go in I’m a man

When I come out I’m a woman

…through having her male “important parts” changed to a woman’s, she comes to think of herself as a woman.

Finally, I’ve found myself.

I’ve found where I belong!

And her personality is completely like a woman’s, and she also completely looks like a woman, and has lived as a woman…

A cockroach!

My master/mistress~

Then Mr. Evil rapes Miss “I am a woman”, all the while thinking she was born a woman, will he be charged with rape?

Sob sob sob~

You bastard! I will curse you forever!

“Mr Evil” may sound facetious, but actually boolhandang (불한당) is the usual term for a bad person, a little like the bogeyman in English (but more specifically a criminal of some sort). Meanwhile, jooinnim (주인님) is gender neutral, so I don’t know if the caterpillar(?) thinks of Heo-poong as a man or a woman sorry.

There is a precedent for this.

The sex chromosomes, internal physiology and external genitalia were all male…

(Before the operation)

He lived as normal man, but a time came when he wanted to have a sex change operation…

Feelings of confusion about if he was a man or woman.

A hard time doing his military service.

He met his true love, a man.

After the operation.

After the operation, she had no reproductive ability as a woman, so in the case of average people on the street’s assessments of and attitudes towards her…

They would decide that she couldn’t be called  a woman.

– Not a woman~

This way, even if you had had a sex change operation, someone who rapes you would not be charged with rape.

Of course, being a woman is not a prerequisite for charging the perpetrator with indecent assault under article 298 of the criminal code, yes?

According to article 298 of the criminal code (indecent assault), if someone assaults another through the threat of violence then he or she can go to jail for a maximum of 10 years or pay a maximum penalty of 15 million won.

In this case, “assault” means not just something which infringes on the victims’ sexual freedom and is in contradiction to normal sexual ethics, but also leaves them with a sense of sexual shame and disgust (Shim Hwae-gee, Official Law Studies (#359), 2004)

This was also established by the Supreme Court in their judgment on case 96.791 on June 11, 1996.

Your honor, do you think that Miss “I am a woman” is also included in the definition of woman for the charge of rape to apply?

What’s that got to do with anything? I just want to do whatever feels good~

Bbok (Bash?)

Master/Mistress, kill this bastard in self-defence!!


Bbak! (Bash?)

That’s strange?? The contents of the Supreme Court’s judgment on case 96.791 on June 11, 1996 have been changed!!

Clearly, it was about rape, but here…

Gyaoodoong (??)

Now it’s about how far one is justified in inflicted violence in self-defense??

Save me~

Oodangtang (Thump! Stamp!)

Update: I completely forgot this article from The Korea Times, which I covered back in February last year (see#17 here):

A provincial court for the first time found a man in his 20s guilty of “raping” a transexual, Wednesday, challenging the current law that defines rape to when a man has forcible sex with a woman born a female. The victim’s legal gender still remains man.

The Busan District Court sentenced the man to three years in prison suspended for four years on charges of raping the 59-year-old transsexual. He was also ordered to participate in 120 hours of community service.

Judge Ko Jong-joo said in the ruling, “The victim has acted like woman since he was born. In 1974, when he turned 24, he underwent a gender reassignment program. He once also lived with a male partner for a decade. Given all of these, he can be seen as female.”

The judge added that although the victim was legally a man, but this did not take into account his sexual identity. “Thus, his sex in legal documents cannot be seen as his `ultimate’ gender,” he said.

The rapist invaded the victim’s home last August and raped her using a blunt weapon. The prosecution initially indicted the man on a “molestation” charge but changed it to “rape” later after considering the victim’s personal history. It sought a five-year prison term, Feb. 11.

Giving the unprecedented ruling, the judge set three criteria to define the precedent ― whether the victim had sex change surgery; how long he/she has lived with appearance of the opposite sex; and if he/she has no problems having sexual relations.

In a similar case in 1996, the Supreme Court did not acknowledge rape charge, citing the victim’s sexual chromosome identity as a male.

I wonder if that 1996 case is the one referred to in the cartoon?

judgment on case 96.791 on June 11, 1996.


Korean Gender Reader

Lee Byung-hun Sienna Miller

( Source. See here for the details )

1) A much needed American woman’s guide to dating Korean men.

2) Transgender model Choi Han-bit (최한빛) reached the final round of competition in the 2009 Asia-Pacific Supermodel Contest in Seoul, which will be held on September 25. See AllKpop for more pictures and videos, and FeetManSeoul translates an article that questions if contest organizers are simply making a poor attempt at imitating the sensation caused by Isis King from America’s Next Top Model.

Meanwhile, Lee Na-young (이나영) will take on a transgender character in her next film role, called Dad Likes Women (아빠는 여자를 좋아해).

3) Sexual harassment on the Seoul subway (such as groping and taking upskirt photos) has risen 26% since last year.

4) According to the latest statistics, 3 out of 4 naturalized Korean are female (hat tip to KimcheeGI). And in other migrant-related news, one Filipino bride was assaulted by her husband and thrown out of their home for becoming pregnant (by him), and also a large number of mixed-race children are withdrawing from school once they reach middle or high-school age.

On a positive note, SBS is investigating both issues (via Diffism).

Finally, looking at the supply-side, Robert Neff discusses Koreans’ role in human-trafficking in Mongolia.

5) Recently, a civil organization called Citizen’s Movement for No Prostitution published an “escort businesses map” of Gangnam, a wealthy part of Seoul; see here for an account of a visit to one.

Chris in South Korea has an inventive solution for what to do with the business cards that such businesses litter the streets with every morning.

6) Mnet, a Korean music channel, is to launch a program for 20-something women called Men Who Come From the Sky Like Rain (하늘에서 남자들이 비처럼 내려와) in which the hosts will find out from the requester the criteria that they are seeking for their ideal man, and then head to the streets themselves to find him. Somehow I doubt that it will “try to solve problems or issues that women in their twenties face” as claimed though.

Lee Hyori Kiss Wilber Pan7) Lee Hyori gave her first on-screen kiss, to American-born Taiwanese pop star Wilber Pan, with whom she is also rumored to be dating. Good for her, on both counts, but given that she is easily Korea’s number one sex symbol, and in a country where – to put it mildly – the media frowns on relationships between Korean women and foreign men, then the relative lack of media attention is quite bizarre really.

But not new: as Korea Beat noted of a 2004 article that waxed lyrical over the Hong Kong media’s fascination with her breasts for example:

…frankly I find it bizarre to see Korea — a nation noted for its dedication to the maintenance of pure bloodlines — going ga-ga over a pretty crude overseas reaction to one of its biggest stars.

Any thoughts on what accounts for the contradiction?

8) Naked News Korea suspends operations after just one month of operation.

9) As Robert Koehler aptly puts it, “Adamu unleashes some fact-checking fury on Lisa Katayama for her piece in NYT Magazine on Japan’s “thriving subculture” of men who prefer 2D women to the real thing.”

10) Unusually for a primetime show, MBC’s new horror drama series Hon (혼, or Soul) is to be given a 19+ rating.

11) A great guide to “Korean attitudes towards being fat, skinny, and everything between” from KoreanClass101.

12) Presumably because of the slave-like contracts which Korean celebrities often have with their management companies, actor and model Yoon Eun-hye (윤은혜) is forming her own managment company.

13) In a warning to never underestimate the power of teenage girls, fans of boy band TVXQ block the street outside the group’s management company, with whom they are having a legal dispute.

14) Both paralleling and the result of women’s reactions to similar groundbreaking movies in the 1990s, the movie My Wife Got Married (아내가 결혼했다; below), about a woman who has two husbands much like a married man might have a mistress, proved to be surprisingly popular among women…especially among those whose husbands have had affairs!


( Source: Unknown )

15) Andrei Lankov writes a potted history of sexuality in North Korea.

16) Two dermatologists in Seoul have been accused of causing facial injuries to 10 women by applying a skin-peeling treatment which they had developed themselves. Not only did were patients not informed of its origins, but it was also non-tested. No mention of the KDFA is mentioned in the article, which implies that mere, biased, in-house testing would have been acceptable?

17) A commentary on the teenage runaways and the recent news that 2 in 3 Korean men feel the urge to flee home as a result of the stress of keeping their jobs during the recession.

18) Baek Young-ok, “a renowned chick lit author, delves into the dark side of diets and women’s fanatical obsession with the slim bodies” with her new novel Queen of Diet.

19) With apologies for the poor quality of the scan, this illustration on the packaging for a food container I bought this evening must be the singularly most unappealing use of Photoshop I’ve ever seen:

Tak 탁 Photoshop

See here for a famous recent example involving a Korean celebrity.


Korean Gender Reader

Ha Ji-won Jinro Chamisul

Granted, that soju posters have been becoming increasingly risqué in recent years is by no means news (see #1 here), and it’s also true that advertisers tend to rely more on consumers’ baser instincts during recessions…but still, even I did a double take when I saw this latest one (source) with Ha Ji-won (하지원), and it makes one wonder what the summer of 2010 will bring if present trends continue.

Ironically however, it is actually rather tame compared to what Korean musicians have been doing recently to get themselves noticed, such as the Brown Eyed Girls (브라운아이드걸스) having a lesbian kissing scene in their latest music video, or former “race-queen” Jung Eun-joo (정은주) producing a music video that is literally soft porn, her management agency (not unreasonably) arguing that she wouldn’t get noticed otherwise. And yet while the latter in particular is complete trash that will never make it to Korean screens, and like Chae-yeon’s (채연) new music video Shake (흔들려) for “suggestive dancing” (see #1 here) and  TVXQ’s songs for their “lewd content” (see #2 here), the Brown Eyed Girl’s effort may similarly also end up being banned from television, those represent just a handful of cases that have cropped up just this year, as cultural producers really do seem to be testing the limits these days. Hence, although Korea’s various state bodies involved with censorship certainly do have corporatist interests in exerting their authority, they may well have their hands full at the moment, and I wonder if as a result we might be about to witness a tectonic shift in the liberalization of the Korean media similar to what happened in 2004, when the following commercial for Hong Kong clothing company Giordano with Jun ji-Hyun (전지현) and Jung Woo-sung (정우성) was banned:

But which resulted in so many clones shortly thereafter that censors seemed to give up on them. Here’s an example from the following year for 17차 for instance, again with Jun Ji-hyun:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

True, the former is very sexual, whereas the latter merely glorifies objectifies the female body…a distinction that I’m only just realizing as I type this, and one that I suspect I really haven’t given enough thought to previously: it deserves further exploring. Regardless, lest you think that I’m exaggerating about the potential for a shift, recall that it also occurs in a context where the Lee Myung-bak’s increasingly authoritarian policies towards the media are creating a backlash, and standards for movies have been liberalizing without pause for breath (see #1 here, #8 here, and #7 here for starters).

In other news:

1) Bending over backwards to satisfy his readers, Ask the Expat provides a very comprehensive and clearly well-researched guide to cruising for gay sex in Korean bathhouses.

2) Approaching things from a different angle, Korea Beat translated a lengthy article from The Chosun Weekly about Lesbian clubs in Hongdae, a major night-life area of Seoul.

The Price Of Sin3) Lee Myung-bak pledged Thursday to increase state subsidies for working mothers and provide more nurseries and daycare centers in an effort to boost the country’s birthrate, but given that (among numerous other things) married women have been overwhelmingly targeted for layoffs in the current recession, then I suspect that this will have minimal effect (see numerous past Korean Gender Readers for more information, but best are #1 here, #2 here, and #2 here, and here is the most recent newspaper article on the subject). It also doesn’t help that, with dwindling numbers of newborns, women’s hospitals are blatantly refusing to deliver babies in favor or easier and more profitable skin care and cosmetic surgeries either.

4) Again, Korea’s adultery laws continue to be baffle: apparently one can have sex with others if one is in the process of a divorce, but not if one’s husband or wife puts “proceedings on hold.” As a commenter at Extra! Korea reasonably points out, in this latest case did the husband even know his wife had done so? Indeed, what if the estranged spouse is in the act while being informed? Hopefully, upon hearing that the recipient is otherwise occupied, then the FedEx guy would have the decency to wait for a few minutes before knocking on the door and handing over the legal documents…

No seriously, it’s hypotheticals like this that demonstrate the law’s absurdity, let alone the arbitrariness with which it is by definition applied in a country with one of the world’s largest prostitution industries.

5) The issue is a little old (see here for an earlier discussion), but still, Kim Heung-sook does a good job of summarizing what is problematic about the choice of Sin Saimdang on the new 50,000 won bill.

6) With parallels to affirmative-action politics in the US, some male students preparing to enter law school are preparing to file a petition with the Constitutional Court against Ehwa Womans University Law School for only admitting, well, women. I can see both sides’ arguments, but given that only 17% of the Korean legal judiciary are women, then personally I’m more in favor of retaining the restriction. It is after all, the only law school in the country that has it.

7) I’m usually very wary of articles about polls in Korean newspapers, but for what it’s worth this one of 921 university students revealed that 30% planned to get some form of cosmetic surgery this summer. Broken down by gender, the figures are 40% of women and 19% of men.

Choi Han-bit8) Choi Han-bit (최한빛) on the right (source) has passed the preliminary stage of the 2009 Supermodel Contest. Nothing remarkable about that you might say, except that she was actually born a man, undergoing a sex change in 2006. See here and here for more pictures of her, including when he appeared dressed as a woman on a television show in 2005. To their (rare) credit, the consensus of netizens is that she is no more artificial a woman than all the other contestants that have had cosmetic surgery operations.

9) Korea Beat has translated the Chosun Ilbo’s response to the avalanche of criticism to its week-long attack on foreign teachers, which naturally created some lively discussion (165 comments and counting); don’t miss Korean Media Watch’s take on it also, and for those few of you that all this is news to, see #1 here for many links to get you started.

10) In a strange article that may well have been written – ipso facto – with the intention of actually creating the trend it is ostensibly merely describing, the Chosun Ilbo reports that 30-something salarymen are now avid shoppers and consumers at department stores. I’m not sure I give much credence to an article that prints the opinions of someone who attributes this to the fact that “men in their 30s are for the first time able to go shopping without the help of a woman” though, even if it did come from a professor at SNU.

11) Completing the transitions between the sexes as it were via the images in this post, let me finish here by passing on two photoshoots of Korean men that both made waves last week. First, these pictures of SHINee (샤이니, pronounced “shiny”) from Vogue Girl (source):


(Update: Here’s an interview where SHINee explain the concept behind the photoshoot)

And then these of Hyun Bin (현빈), from Cosmopolitan (source):

Hyun Bin Cosmopolitan

While it’s not for me to judge women’s tastes, I am sorely tempted to mention that, lacking pictures of actual transexual men with which to complete the set of woman-transexual woman-transexual man-man, then SHINee certainly provide a pretty decent alternative…!