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[Newsmaker] Controversy brews over sex dolls in Korea

After court approval, lawmakers seek regulation as civic groups protest

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)
The controversy over sex dolls in Korea continues, with lawmakers seeking to impose regulations while civic groups call for a ban despite the court ruling to allow importing them.

The Seoul Administrative Court on Tuesday, announced a ruling in favor of a local importer that had sued a Gimpo Airport customs official over the suspension of the import customs clearance of sex dolls.

During the trial, the importer said, “Although the sex doll is a masturbation device for men with a shape and size similar to that of adult women, it cannot be seen as expressing or describing a specific sexual part to the extent that it is considered to have seriously damaged human dignity and value.”

The customs side rebutted, “A sex doll is an adult product made only to arouse sexual interest and satisfy sexual desires, and it falls under ‘goods that is against the mores’ that are prohibited for import under the Customs Act.”

The court admitted that the sex dolls give an impression of vulgarity and promiscuity overall, but judged that sexual devices are tools made for the purpose of satisfying sexual desire instead of physical contact, and inevitably have to realize the shape of characteristics of the body.

Earlier in 2019, the Supreme Court also ruled in favor of another importer that had filed a suit against Incheon Customs over the suspension of the import customs clearance of sex dolls.

Despite the court’s rulings, controversy over sex dolls has not faded among the people, civic groups and lawmakers.

In 2019, a petition calling to “ban the import of sex dolls” was posted on Cheong Wa Dae’s bulletin board and had received more than 260,000 signatures.

The petitioner argued, “In Korea, people synthesize the faces of celebrities or acquaintances with pornographic photos and post them on the internet.”

“There’s no guarantee that sex dolls -- which can be customized with the face a user wants -- won’t do that. If your face becomes (attached to) a sex doll without you knowing, who will be responsible for the trauma?”

Civic groups also point out that sex dolls may reinforce misogyny and a sexist culture.

Seo Seung-hee, chief of civic group Korea Cyber Sexual Violence Response Center, said, “A sex doll is dangerous in that it allows men to perceive that all actions with women’s body is possible, such as buying, selling or controlling.”

“The act of reproducing a woman’s body and using it at will inevitably reduces the sensitivity to violence against women,” she said.

Lawmakers are proposing bills to regulate the production and sales of sex dolls.

Earlier this month, Rep. Song Ki-heon of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea proposed a revision of sex crime-related laws to prohibit sex dolls being modeled after the appearance of children, adolescents and specific people.

According to the amendment, the owner of a company that produces, imports or exports sex dolls modeled after children or teenagers could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison or fined up to 70 million won ($63,000).

Rep. Choi Hye-young from the same party also proposed a partial amendment to the Act on Sexual Protection of Children and Adolescents last month to restrict the production, sales and rental of sex dolls in the form of children and adolescents.

According to the bill, those who make, import and export sex dolls in the form of children and adolescents will be imposed with up to three years in prison or a fine of up to 30 million won.

The two bills do not have specific criteria to distinguish between sex dolls with an “adult figure” and those with a “child and adolescent figure.”

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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