On March 15, the first Japanese-style "maid cafe" opened in Korea. At the cafe, female employees dressed in Western maid costumes serve food and beverages, calling customers "master." Although illegal activities such as adult entertainment are prohibited in this cafe, there is still criticism that the cafe itself is sexual commercialization. In this regard, there are concerns about sexual commercialization in areas that are highly accessible to everyone.
Humans as a product
The commodification of sex in media is also prevalent in everyday life. This is because not only is sex itself being used as a means, but also something that reminds one of sexual images is classified as sexual commercialization. The Netflix entertainment show "Risqué Business," released on April 25, is a program that talks about adult entertainment businesses and sexual culture in other countries. After the program was aired, it was pointed out that there was a problem with the way it handled adult culture. The remarks of adult video (AV) actors in the program highlighted only the claims that there are many positive parts of Japan's AV industry, dismissing problems such as human rights violations and labor exploitation. Hwang Jin-mi, a culture critic, said, "AVs cannot explain the topic without mentioning the issue of sexual exploitation. Looking at this from the free perspective of sex, we should not emphasize it as Japanese culture."1) She emphasized that "Risqué Business" deals with AV, which can contribute to illegal activities, only as a part of culture, and that can lead to the glorification of prostitution in Korea. Such an interpretation may lead to sexual exploitation as a legal means to make money. In highly accessible media, dealing with sexual commercialization topics as a trivial matter also could raise the possibility of concealing up some of its problems such as exploitation.
As the perception of sexual commercialization is prevalent, sex trafficking crimes have recently spread through the Internet, leading to sexual exploitation. Similar crimes have persisted since the "Nth Room" incident in 2019. On May 2, the Jeju National Police Agency announced that 11 people had been arrested on charges of sexual exploitation on the internet. Most of them are accused of producing sexual exploitation materials targeting children or teenagers using a similar method to the "Nth Room" incident, and then selling the videos. In this regard, Jeon Eun-sol, a "Now" activist from Jeonbuk Support Center for Children and Youth Victims of Prostitution, said, "The methods of attracting youth to the sex exploitation industry is expanding to the metaverse, and teenagers be lured to the industry can suffer damage such as imprisonment and intimidation from sex buyers or brokers."2) She emphasized that teenagers can easily become victims of digital sex crimes and anyone can be a victim due to the nature of the internet, which has no spatial constraints that can be attached to crime. Also, she predicted that the damage might be even greater because other damage occurs such as assault and imprisonment. It can be seen that sexual commercialization can lead to other secondary damage by targeting socially underprivileged people such as women and adolescents and selling them as products.
The darkness of commercialization
This sexual commercialization is strengthened by gender stereotypes. A drama that was aired on KBS 2 TV, <Once Again>, has been criticized for sticking to old gender stereotypes. In that drama, there was a scene where a woman was wearing clothes that highlight figure her figure and touted for the business on the street. Male students also appeared as the target of the woman, and the scene is reminiscent of an illegal entertainment place. The description of women as men's entertainment can reduce women to a product. These depictions seem to run the risk of spreading false gender sensitivity and creating a kind of dominant relationship in which men consume women. Professor Baek So-young of Gangnam University said, "These days, the media does not directly commercialize sex, but rather expresses it so that the public naturally accepts it with clever descriptions."3) This suggests that if sexual stereotypes are strengthened due to sexual commercialization in the media without critical media literacy, the public is likely to internalize them without being aware of the problem. Advertisements containing elements of sexual commercialization are also causing controversy abroad. In a Weibo advertisement for recruiting new students to Nanjing University in China, girls held up signs saying things such as "Do you want to stay in the library with me from morning to night?" On the other hand, there were no phrases containing this meaning on the signs held up by male students. Instead, they held up signs with phrases such as "Do you want to be an honest, sincere, and ambitious Nanjing University student?" This could be criticized for using only female students' signs work as a sexual metaphor, causing them to be commercialized sexually. Like this, People can easily learn programs or advertisements that include sexually commercialized content and could unconsciously internalize wrong gender roles through it.
Another problem with sexual commercialization is that teenagers who blindly follow gender stereotypes and hierarchies acquired through the media can have distorted sexual perceptions. Since sexual commercialization sexualizes a person's body, teenagers whose values are not properly established can regard their bodies as only sexual objects. Some teenagers upload photos highlighting figure their figures on SNS to promote prostitution with information including their residence to earn cash. They think that their bodies can be a tool to generate economic benefits and want to follow the characteristics of commercialized gender. A high school health teacher in Dangjin said, "In other countries, it is difficult for teenagers to access sexual media, but in Korea, they can access sexual media so easily if they use SNS. It is not an environment in which teenagers can learn correct sexual knowledge."4) It suggested that teenagers' ignorance of sexual perceptions is due to the social structure, not an individual fault. Also, it could put them in more danger because their photos on SNS are likely to be used for digital sex crimes. On June 9, according to an announcement by the Gangwon Provincial Police Agency, some suspects of teenage sexual exploitation videos were able to approach the young women by searching hashtags such as "elementary school students" and "nude" on social media. They targeted teenagers who posted their naked body photos and extorted other photos and videos with the threat they would tell their parents or report them to the police. Therefore, distorted sexual perceptions due to sexual commercialization plays a role in turning their acts into other crimes. There is a need to devise a solution to resolve youth's ignorance of sexual knowledge at the social level.
Finding the chronic cause
Recognizing the seriousness of sex crimes, which are increasing in damage, the government has strengthened penalties for such crimes. Under the amendment of the Act on the Protection of Children and Youth Against Sex Offenses, if the victim is a child or an adolescent, the production and distribution of sexual exploitation materials is subject to imprisonment with labor for an indefinite term or imprisonment for more than five years. This revised bill focuses on clearly punishing the perpetrators by increasing the sentence. However, digital sex crimes are still on the rise. Data on digital sex crimes reported and received by the Korea Communications Standards Commission rose from 6,322 in 2020 to 11,568 in 2021. Between 2020 and 2021, digital sex crimes increased by more than 80%. This shows the effectiveness of the relevant laws is doubted and they are considered to be insufficient in reducing the crime rate. Therefore, voices have spoken out to argue that effective punishment is needed, not just an increase in sentences for such crimes, but also the identification of suspects. In addition to the need for further punishment for sex offenders, there is also some demand to remove the clauses in the Act On The Prevention Of Commercial Sex Acts And Protection Of Victims that punish not only sex buyers but also women who sell sex. The Prostitution Prevention Act aims to help prostitutes escape from prostitution by implementing a system for the state to take responsibility for preventing prostitution. They claim that punishing women who sell sex based on the law can serve as a hindrance to the actual purpose of the law. On January 19, women's organizations attending a group discussion said, "The reason why the shocking cases of forced prostitution and sexual exploitation are repeated is that they put the burden of responsibility of prostitution on victims, and are somewhat too lenient on sex buyers and brokers while branding and criticizing them."5) Organizations criticize the situation in which perpetrators are punished lightly compared to the seriousness of their crimes and in which victims are blamed rather than identifying the root cause of prostitution crimes. Considering the regulations of serious crimes, it seems necessary to consider the effectiveness of victim protection and crime prevention as well as the punishment of the perpetrators.
Overseas, various organizations are preparing guidelines to prevent sexual commercialization in the media. YouTube has a clause that prohibits live broadcasting of children under the age of 14 without a guardian. It is a regulation to fundamentally block content that shows the sexual objectification of children who do not possess full judgment ability yet. Also, comments from viewers during live broadcasts can pose a risk to children. Following this guideline, global companies such as AT&T, Nestle, and Disney have withdrawn their advertisements from Google because they is not active in protecting children. By enacting guidelines on banning sexual commercialization on YouTube, where various kinds of videos are posted, it seems that such content production could be prevented and there might be more careful censorship by the companies themselves. For reducing sexual commercialization, some say critical analysis is an important factor. Media literacy researcher Park Yoo-shin said, "Because sexual objectification is a kind of visual sign, users may not notice its implications if they are not aware of the tradition of visual code. This is why we need to develop our media literacy skills."6) It stresses the need to improve critical media literacy skills to determine what is sexual commodification and become conscious of the problems. This means it is desirable to examine sexual commercialization to know exactly what has become a sexual object over time and to grasp its true meaning. It can be seen that all members of society, should be wary of sexual commercialization and know how to properly view such cases.
No demand, no supply
Sexual commercialization in the media is widespread, so people accept it without hesitation. The content can form gender stereotypes and build a gender hierarchy, instilling distorted sexual perceptions in teenagers. The resulting actions can lead to digital sex crimes and resulting social damage. The government has revised legislation to minimize damage, and foreign organizations and companies have also established guidelines. To eliminate sexual commercialization, it is necessary not only to punish perpetrators, but also to identify the true causes and seek ways to reduce the demand for it.
1) Nam Ji-eun, "AV Sexual Exploitation Problem Is Ongoing…"Risqué Business" That Crossed the Line", The Hankyoreh, April 26, 2023
2) Yoon Gi-eun, "Clicking "Story of the Flower Industry" to Find a Site for Sex Trafficking…This Attract Young People", The Kyunghyang Shinmun, September 20, 2023
3) Jin Eun-hee, "Sex Commercialization in the Drama...twisted Gender Recognition 'Concerned'", Daily GOOD NEWS, May 13, 2020
4) Heo Mi-reu, "Serious Adolescent Sex Knowledge… distorted Sexual Knowledge Concerns", djnews, November 5, 2022
5) Kwon Eu-ju, "There is no simple prostitution. Gaslighting Is the Basis of Prostitution", THE WOMEN'S NEWS, January 20, 2023
6) Lee Ju-bin, "Why Do You Close Up a Kid's Lips on an Ice Cream Commercial? [The Friendly Reporters]", The Hankyoreh, August 19, 2022