Author: Sora Kim (Lecturer, Soongsil University)
(This is a brief summary of her Ph.D. dissertation)
Since the late 1980s, alongside the rise of various forms of media and a growing interest in bodies and sexuality, the question of how to deal with issues related to sexual media, particularly pornography, has become a pressing social problem. The areas of societal conflict and tension regarding the production, distribution, and consumption patterns of sexual media have changed over time. State regulation of sexual media have been tightening, in the form of accumulating regulatory guidelines or laws promulgated on the basis of protecting children and young people.
At the same time, however, issues like a legal regulatory system which has grown overbearing, inconsistencies in the enforcement of regulations, and inefficiencies caused by the tightening of regulatory law have begun to appear. In addition, under this context in which regulations are mechanically deliberated upon and based solely on the pretense of protecting children and young people, there is a growing criticism that regulations are inadequate for protecting women, despite the fact that women make up the majority of victims in regards to the production and dissemination of hidden camera content.
Along with the democratization of Korean society, sexuality also underwent a process of liberalization, therefore, in today’s society of expanding sexual indulgences, how can the phenomenon of strengthening regulations on sexual material and the frequent complaints regarding the effectuality of these regulations be understood? This paper goes back to 1987 to try to understand how the administrative policies of Korean society today were formed. This paper analyzes the nature of the social powers that have influenced sexual content regulatory policy and the results of said regulations by tracking the historical processes through which related laws, policies, and institutions were formed since 1987. For this purpose, I focus on sexual media and content regulatory policy as a “process" in which regulations on sexual content are formed through the relationship between the occurrence of social controversies and the semantics surrounding those controversies. In particular, I examine two factors that have the greatest influence on the regulation of sexual materials. These factors are the changing patterns of production, distribution, and consumption of sexual media, and the conflicts and divisions of civil society. The results of the study are as follows.
Firstly, since 1987 there has been an abrupt change in the modes of production, distribution, and consumption of sexual media, which has been an important variable informing changes in sexual media regulation policy. With democratization, in 1987, came freedom of the press and publishing and the floodgates for sexual content were thrown open. Erotic videos became popular, with softcore pornography in particular becoming widely popularized and diversified. Since 1997, the sexual material in nonfiction media, which recorded actual sexual acts became popular. The spread of personal computers along with the expansion of cyberspace and the Internet has also changed the way sexual content is distributed. Since the latter half of the 2000s, sexual content recorded through hidden cameras and distributed against the will of person recorded has been becoming increasingly common. Such eroticization of women during their daily lives has resulted in the harassment of individual women and women as a group. The ways in which sexual content is consumed and enjoyed has also changed. Since the late 1990s, the spread of the Internet has dissolved the boundary between the production and the consumption of sexual content, and sexual material has become a solitary pastime, enjoyed in a closed and private space. However, sharing on anonymous Internet bulletins or forums has created an effect whereby numerous items of anonymous sexual content can be viewed simultaneously. Along with this, a range of male-centric cultures and a masculine solidarity created through the enjoyment of common sexual materials is rapidly expanded.
Since the late 2000s, mobile platforms for viewing sexual content have expanded due to the widespread use of smartphones, SNS, and mobile applications. As a result, the previously existent time and space restrictions on sexual material distribution and consumption have been completely eliminated. The filming, proliferating, and consumption of the bodies of women, through discretely filmed hidden camera footage, has become more frequent, and that content is increasingly edited and turned into porn. In the mobile environment, semi-anonymous users sexualize women’s bodies and turn them into sexual objects. This in turn becomes a type of play among men, further destroying the boundary between the production and consumption of sexual material and smudging the distinction between play and violence.
Second, claims from civil society regarding the harmfulness of sexual content or of regulating it have been brought up and have been largely focused on the protection of children and young people or the freedom of media, respectively, and these discourses have influenced regulatory policy. In the late 1980s, it was argued that explicit sexual content upended sexual ethics and hindered the formation of a healthy sexuality in young people. The criticisms of civil society were largely concentrated on those who produced, distributed, and sold sexual material for profit. On the other hand, adolescents were viewed as a group easily influenced by sexual content, so they were not recognized as sexual subjects but were regarded as objects that needed to be “controlled” rather than “protected”.
In the late 1990s, conflict within civil society became more mainstream. The discovery of cases of juvenile prostitution became the grounds for regarding sexual material as a youth problem, and the “Youth Protection Act” was enacted in 1997. Around this time, commercial capital seeking profit in the industry of sexual media, adult men purchasing sex from minors, the sexual indulgences of teenagers emerged as social problems. Simultaneously, interest in sexuality increased due to rapidly expanding discourses on sexuality, and there were also many people opposed to the censorship and regulation of sexual material based on freedom of expression. The realm of sexual media was reorganized around the two forces, one asserting the necessity of protecting traditional sexual ethics and the other arguing in favor of freedom of expression. Among these discourses, there was little room for the feminists discourse to intervene and argue the value of protecting women from sexual violence while also discussing female sexual pleasure.
Since the late 2000s, the space of sexual media, which has until this point expanded due to the differentiation and competition of civil society, became more limited, and sex offenses emerged as serious social offenses. As social anger regarding child sex offenses spread, a causal relationship between sex offenses and sexual media consumption was established in the discourse. The voice of civil society focused on a public fear of men from lower social class, who have “kinky” tastes that include sexualization of minors and pedophilia. As a result, children and adolescents were defined as a vulnerable group that needs to be “protected” from sex crimes. Establishing the binary of an immature group and a dangerous group, one which needs to be “protected” and one “controlled”.
Third, changes in production, distribution, and consumption of sexual material; the increasing outcry of civil society; as well as the regulation of sexual materials all experienced fluctuation, reorganization, and intensification, and the inefficiencies and contradictions in public policy formation deepened. After democratization, demands for the establishment of social order through measures which would protect the youth and control crime were raised in civil discourse, and sexual media was singled out as a subject requiring specific management. As various laws have been revised or abolished, and departments and deliberating bodies are shuffled around, sexual media regulation policy has been in a state of flux. In particular, due to the democratization movement, the “pre-modern” and “undemocratic” laws of the past have been diminished. So, instead, sexual media regulation has determined by criminal justice agencies, administrative dispositions, and through advanced deliberation.
In the late 1990s, sexual content regulation polices were reorganized around the Youth Protection Act, and the government has enacted judicial penalties for sexual content producers, as well as administrative discipline through media monitoring and sexual content crackdowns. The enactment of the Youth Protection Act and the establishment of the Youth Protection Committee unified in with the aim of regulating sexual material and establishing a hierarchy between dispersed statutes and laws, while at the same time removing unconstitutional elements from sexual content regulation policy. This was the starting point for the government to regain control of the sexual content regulation policy. However, as society‘s perception of sexuality has shifted and “home-made” documentary pornography enters the mainstream of sexual content, the gap between judicial punishment, administrative disposition, and the actual production and consumption of sexual material increases.
This gap is bridged on the basis of youth protection, but the efficiency of regulating sexual content has begun to deteriorate. In the late 2000s, when the problem of sexual content became a problem centered on the protection of children and adolescents, the government revised the “Act on the Protection of Juveniles Sexuality” into the “Act on the Protection of Children and Juveniles from Sexual Abuse”. This requires that not only the production, sale, and distribution of games, cartoons, and videos, etc., in which virtual children and adolescents appear and conduct sexual acts, but also the simple possession thereof, are criminal offenses. Government initiatives and influence remained strong at this time. However, the moral and autonomous regulation of society has slowed as the gap between the perception of sexual material, the practice of consuming sexual material, and the sexual content regulatory policies have intensified. This has led to a vicious cycle in which the dependency on criminal and legal regulation, the strengthening of national administration, and the enlargement of administrative power have been promoted. Inadequate handling of “photographic exploitation” of women, such as the filming and dissemination of hidden camera content, demonstrates the failures of regulating sexual material.
In this paper, I examine the present state of the government—oriented towards the regulation of sexual content in Korean society as a historical product involving a variety of different powers. Through this, it was possible to understand the process through which massive sexual content regulation policies, that are relatively uninvolved with the actual production, distribution, and consumption of the real sexual material, came into being. It is also implied that the “performance” through which sexual material is shared is involved in the reconstruction of a gendered sexuality and the semantic composition of sexual material. However, there is limitations regarding the fact that it cannot contain the sexual content industry which continues to obtain huge profits through the production and circulation of sexual materials. A follow-up study on the political economy viewpoints of those who have been exploited through the distribution and consumption of sexual material, and on the industries that reap the benefits of that exploitation are required.
Keywords: Sexual materials, Obscenity, Pornography, Sexual materials regulation policies, Publicity, ‘Youth Protection Law’, ‘The Act on the Protection of Children and Juveniles from Sexual Abuse’, Social Problems