Imagine a silicon doll modeled after you and its size is almost the same as you. Then, imagine a complete stranger playing with it like a child’s toy. The mere thought of that is quite shocking, but what is more surprising is that something very similar to this is happening in real life and you can buy life-like toys both on- and offline. Other shocking additions to this story are the fact that you cannot know the creator of the doll nor who requested the order. For the last, that is made to be used in a sexual way. You are likely repulsed of the idea, but this is happening in reality.
What is a RealDoll?
RealDoll is a human-sized sex doll or mannequin made of silicon, PVC fracture, and steel joints. It is designed to accurately reflect a real human male or female in terms of appearance, smooth skin, and weight. The main purpose of the doll is to take on the role of a sex partner. On the large purchasing agent site, there are detailed explanations about RealDoll and how to order one. According to the site, RealDoll’s voice function can be turned on and off with the push of a button, and its body heating system can regulate the RealDoll at 37 degrees Celsius, which is the average human body temperature. For those hesitant about buying a RealDoll due to their appearance, it comes with a carrier that resembles a regular suitcase. In other words, RealDoll is quite sophisticated and convenient as a modern-day sex doll. With the market for adult products and demands for RealDoll increasing, the company now offers both female and male RealDolls. A vendor of adult products who goes by the alias ‘Jenny’ headed the launch of RealDoll, which the female version modeled after her. She uploaded a photo of herself standing side-by-side with the doll. It looked exactly like her and even had the mole under real Jenny’s eyes. The market for RealDoll is expanding and being diversified.
The Supreme Court of Korea has now allowed the selling of bulk imported RealDolls. Before the court’s decision, it was possible to buy a RealDoll, but importing massive quantities was banned. People used to buy their RealDolls through small companies that specialized in customized dolls, but since the legalization of bulk imports, it is now much easier to find stores selling RealDolls. Also, before the legalization of importing RealDolls, the price was very expensive as customers had to purchase a doll through a purchasing agent. It used to cost around 3.12 million won, however, after legalizing imports, RealDolls became cheaper as there is no need for a purchasing agent. Song Yong-Sup, a general planner of adult products, expects the legalization to have a significant impact on Korea. He expects the domestic market for adult goods, usually valued at around 100 billion won, to grow by two to three times.1) As Song mentioned, legalizing the import of RealDolls will bring a lot of changes. However, markets selling RealDolls are expanding as are controversial issues regarding RealDoll in Korea.
RealDoll in court
In 2017, a company reported its activity of importing silicon-based RealDolls that reproduced an actual female body shape and size. However, customs placed a hold on them because they judge that RealDolls were “products that hurt the convention”. Nevertheless, there is no specific law regarding the import of RealDolls in Korea. Because possessing the product is not a criminal activity, it is only confined by law regarding public display, sale, and the lease of obscene documents, paintings, films, and other objects. Customs Law Article 234 states that “books, publications, paintings, movies, records, videos, sculptures, or equivalents that harm the convention are prohibited.” This article was the sole reason RealDoll was prohibited from being imported. Arguing that the import does not fall under the Customs Law, in 2017, the Incheon District Court dismissed importing RealDolls. The court said that the Customs law was appropriate because RealDoll portrayed a person’s sexual area in an unpleasant way that would have seriously damaged a person’s dignity and value. The complainant, the martial aid market, appealed again. Then in 2018, a Higher Court overturned the first court’s ruling on the condition that RealDoll is marketed as martial aids so that there is minimal trespassing on individuals’ privacy. This ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court, which means that it is possible to import RealDolls in Korea.
The final decision came as a result of consideration of differences in perspectives to RealDoll between the Incheon District Court and the Supreme Court. First, there is the consideration of ‘human rights violations’. The judge in the first case said the import of RealDolls by the Customs’ officers was valid as the “human-like RealDoll seriously undermines human dignity and values.” The judge mentions human dignity suggesting that the use of a RealDoll can lead to violation of human rights. However, the Supreme Court reached its verdict by “treating the use of a RealDoll as a martial aid and individual privacy”. That is, restricting one’s use of a RealDoll infringes upon their personal rights. Second, the Incheon District Court said a RealDoll’s explicitness of human nature infringes upon human dignity. The Supreme Court, however, said that such openness was not the point of going against the notion of society. Despite the two different verdicts, both discuss the problem of the dolls being ‘too’ human. The final decision by the Supreme Court reflects a changed social setting and norms in Korea that it would be considered legitimate martial aid.
Just a doll?
Due to the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s judgment, a petition calling for a withdraw of the final judgment regarding RealDolls was posted on the Cheong Wa Dae public petition board. 260,000 people signed the petition in just a month after its posting. The petition claims that the legalization is so controversial that it needs to be publicly debated. As they insisted, more serious problems could arise if RealDolls are freely imported and sold. Most of all, the mere selling and purchasing of a RealDoll can contribute to the accelerating commercialization of ‘women’. The commercialization of women like a commodity is equivalent to the trafficking of women for sex. “In reality, there are many crimes targeted at women such as the illegal filming and synthesis of female faces, but the punishment for those offenses is minimal. Under this reality, if RealDolls are allowed to be freely distributed in Korea, it is possible to make RealDoll that is modeled after “real woman”. This can make men be more likely to consider women as only means of sexual desire satisfaction,” said Ahn Hyunjin, an activist with Network of Ecofeminism.2) If this happens, there will be more serious personality violations. RealDolls can be created to resemble a real living person. According to one of the RealDoll shopping malls, RealDoll customization can be done if the customer is willing to pay about 2 million won. Anyone with 2 million won can then have a RealDoll fashioned to look like any woman they wish. At present, the customization of a RealDoll to resemble someone specific is not illegal under the Criminal Law in Korea. It has only been alluded to as one of the possible personal violation problems.
The bigger problem is that a RealDoll can be customized to resemble minors. As mentioned above, there is no clear control of domestic-made RealDolls, their distribution, or their sales. The law also does not limit the size of a RealDoll in Korea, so many RealDoll retail stores have started to import the ‘100cm’ sized RealDolls, which are the approximate size of a young girl aged 8~10. In Southern Australia, a bill has been introduced to parliament to ban the production of RealDolls that resemble the size of small children. It has the support of a majority of lawmakers regardless of political ideology. It is only after the import and production of RealDolls became legal in Korea that the government has begun revisions to the law. Right now, it overlooks the size of a RealDoll, which could lead to increased sex crimes that target children, especially young girls.
Not just your family
Despite the countless controversies over RealDolls around Korea, there are still those who support the import of RealDolls and those who use them irresponsibly. They claim the restrictions on the use of RealDolls are unfair. In fact, in August 2018, at Gangnam Station, one man took his RealDoll with him and sat on his wheelchair with the picket sign that read: “RealDoll can be a family to some”. Nevertheless, it is necessary to consider whether the use of RealDolls, which are detailed copies of women, is morally right. A RealDoll could be family for some, but it could be a rape instigator for many others.
1) Lee so yeong, “Flow of the Sex Culture...Adult Shopping Mall Banana Mall “Change of Perception””, Joongang Ilbo, August 12, 2019
2) Lee geunah, “Male Sexual Privacy Threats Female Personality...“RealDolls” Are Issued”, News of Seoul, August 26, 2019
Kim Han Yujin / Reporter
Lee Hwang Hayoung / Reporter