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South Korea court rules detention of prostitutes in 1960s and 70s illegal

[JURIST] The Central District Court in Seoul, South Korea, on Friday ruled that the South Korean government had broken the law by detaining prostitutes serving American soldiers and forcefully treating them for venereal diseases. The court ordered the government to pay [NYT report] the equivalent of $4,240 in compensation for physical and psychological damage to each of 57 plaintiffs who worked as prostitutes during the 1960s and 70s. The government had denied any involvement in organizing the prostitution, but the plaintiffs alleged they were forced or cheated into prostitution and forced to live in large camps, unable to get away. The plaintiffs were happy with Friday's ruling, as it was the first official recognition that the women in the camps had been treated illegally. The plaintiffs are, however, still planning to appeal the decision, in order to get higher compensation and to get compensation for all 120 plaintiffs, not just 57. Furthermore, the women are also looking for a formal apology and admission from the government that it had been partly responsible for creating and running the camps, something the government still denies.

The issue of prostitution has long been controversial in South Korea, where most people have a very negative view of prostitutes. Prostitution is illegal in South Korea and in 2016 the Constitutional Court of South Korea upheld a 2004 law [JURIST report], under which the individual prostitute can also be punished, calling prostitution "violent and exploitative in nature." Further complicating the issue of potential government organized prostitution is South Korea's condemnation of Japan's use of Korean women as sex slaves during World War 2. The issue between the two countries was not resolved [JURIST report] until 2015, when Japan issued an apology and set up a fund to help the families of those who suffered. The apology came after years of denial from the Japanese government [JURIST report] that the women were coerced, saying they worked in the brothels by choice.

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