Earlier this month, a 21-year-old marine was sentenced to one year and six months in prison for sexually abusing at least four of his male subordinates over the course of 20 occasions in 2013, including forcing them to perform oral sex on him.
However, when prosecutors in Gwangju indicted him on sexual abuse charges, they could not apply the nation's rape laws ― as the law only acknowledges rape when the "female sex organ has been penetrated by the male sex organ."
This means same-sex rape cannot be legally acknowledged in Korea. The laws also don't recognise any other forms of sexual penetration ― such as forced anal or oral sex, or inserting of a foreign object into the body ― as rape, regardless of the gender of the victim.
Scholars and legal experts say the current law fails to protect victims of sexual violence with its limited definition of rape, especially those in the military who are vulnerable to power abuse.
"The current law says that penetration of the vagina by the male sex organ is the most serious form of sexual abuse," said Chang Da-hye, a legal scholar at the Korean Institute of Criminology.
"But when you think about it, the physical and emotional damage to a victim who experienced penetration of other body parts can be in fact more serious than those who have been 'raped' as defined by the current law."
'Rape' and 'like-rape'
In many countries, including the US and France, rape is defined as any act of sexual penetration, whatever its nature, committed against another person.
The International Criminal Court defines it as any "penetration, however slight, of any part of the body of the victim or of the perpetrator with a sexual organ, or the anal or genital opening of the victim with any object or any other part of the body."
The World Health Organisation defines it as "physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration ― even if slight ― of the vulva or anus, using body parts or an object."
Yet in Korea, the definition of rape is specifically limited to penetration of the female genitals by the male sex organ, and other forms of forced sexual penetration are defined as "like-rape" ― which carry lighter penalties than what the law defines as "rape."
Currently, the Korean law stipulates that the punishment for "rape" is imprisonment for a definite term of at least three years, which is the heaviest among a