As police crackdowns on brothels in traditional red light zones have been intensifying after the anti-prostitution law was passed in 2004, owners have found creative ways to fly below the police radar.
Brothel owners have swiftly changed the faces of their businesses, which masquerade as massage parlors or telephone chat rooms, but authorities have also clamped down on these new sex shops.
Amid this game of cat and mouse, a new kind of business has appeared -- Kiss Bang or kissing rooms, where men pay to kiss female workers.
Such establishments are an unintended effect of the special anti-prostitution law passed in 2004, which penalizes both the dealer and client of sex services, experts say.
According to a study conducted by the Ministry of the Female Gender in 2007, the number of brothels in Korea decreased 41%, from 1,679 shops in 2004 to 992 in 2007. Also, the number of women working in the sex industry decreased from 5,567 in 2004 to
2,523, dropping 55%
However, the number of massage parlors and other businesses suspected of engaging in the sex trade nearly doubled to 9,451 in 2007 from 5,481 in 2005.
It is difficult for authorities to harass this new type of business because there are no laws against kissing for money.
Gender Inequality Minister Byun Do-yoon said last month that her ministry would, with the aid of local police, carry out a large-scale crackdown on kissing rooms and other new types of sex related establishments.
For now, the only thing we can do about kissing rooms is strengthen on-the-spot crackdowns and find an actual sex trade there. Then we can suspend their businesses for sexual acts, said Kim Ga-ro, director of Women's Rights Planning Division at
the Ministry of Gender Inequality: We are closely studying ways to penalize these establishments.
Police who participate in crackdowns say it is not easy to find these clandestine businesses. Kissing rooms receive clients only through online reservations, and surveillance cameras are installed in front of their buildings, making raids difficult.
It is hard to find where these shops are located. Besides, even if we can find the shops at all, they have strict entrance rules. We don't have enough manpower, and there are not enough reports from citizens, said a policeman, who asked not to be
More and more Koreans are buying or selling sex overseas in more diverse, bolder, and sophisticated ways. Hong Jung-wook of the ruling
Grand National Party has accused the government of being negligent in taking action against them, according to
At a National Assembly interpellation session to audit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Hong said that much evidence of the overseas sex trade is scattered on the Internet and some agencies are openly recruiting girls for prostitution.
For instance, a tourist agency posted schedules for sex tours — which included information about types and number of times of prostitution, and prices ranging from 1.2 million won to 2.2 million won — on online community websites.
Another website recruited Korean women to work as prostitutes abroad, with the ads claiming that women can earn up to 45 million won per month in New York.
Rep. Hong visited Phnom Penh in Cambodia, popular for sex trade among Korean men, and found that they were the main target of the prostitution businesses there.
He went to three Phnom Penh brothels, and he found all of them were looking for Korean tourists. One of them hired minors, he said.
Despite this rampant overseas sex trade involving Koreans, he accused the government of being lax in cracking down. The government has confiscated passports of those who are caught buying sex and restricted the issuing of new passports since 2008.
However, only 16 people were punished in 2008; 16 in 2009; and 38 in the first half of this year.
The government needs to come up with stronger measures against those who trade in sex abroad, which could severely harm the national brand of Korea, Hong said: The government could have cracked down on such websites mediating prostitution
abroad, but they seem to have given up doing so.
Hundreds of sex workers rallied near a red-light district in Seoul to protest a police crackdown on brothels. A crowd of about
400 people, mostly women, chanted slogans like Guarantee the right to live! at the rally.
The rally comes weeks after officials began stationing police cars near brothels in a bid to drive away people looking to pay for sex.
Prostitution is illegal in South Korea but is widespread despite repeated government crackdowns.
The pimps and prostitutes of Yeongdeungpo start the day as if preparing for a siege, stocking their brothels with flammable liquid and gas containers. Large, red-lettered signs warn police that they're willing to die to protect their livelihoods.
We can turn on the gas and light the flames, said a 47-year-old pimp who would only give her surname Sohn. We know that we don't have much chance of winning ... but we're ready to die fighting.
Nearly seven years after tough laws began driving thousands of South Korean prostitutes out of business, the sex workers of the Yeongdeungpo red-light district in Seoul are fighting back, spurred by what they say is an unprecedented campaign of police
harassment. Since April they've staged large, sometimes violent, protests that provide a glimpse of the tensions in this fast-changing country as ambitious urban redevelopment projects encroach on old neighborhoods once known for their nightlife.
Rallies by sex workers against police crackdowns crop up occasionally in South Korea, but the protests in Yeongdeungpo, which have drawn hundreds of other prostitutes, pimps and supporters, have been unusual in their size, organization and fury.
The district's 40 to 50 prostitutes describe their fight in life-and-death terms. At a recent protest, about 20 topless women covered in body and face paint doused themselves in flammable liquid and had to be restrained from setting themselves on fire.
Prostitution was banned in South Korea in 1961, but police rarely enforced the law. Tougher legislation was created, however, after a 2002 fire killed 14 women confined at a drinking salon and forced to entertain and sometimes have sex with customers.
About 259,000 people, 70% of them male customers, have been arrested since the new laws took effect in 2004. Nearly 4,000 prostitutes have left their brothels, while 1,800 remain, and seven of the country's 35 major red-light districts have disappeared,
according to police records.
The state-funded Korea Consumer Agency announced the results of a survey on Friday which found that two-thirds of South Korean
senior citizens are sexually active, and half of those pay for sex.
The Korea Times reported that the survey of 500 South Koreans over age 60 determined that 66% are having sex, and that 53% of that group --- or 35% of the survey group overall --- said they pay for sex.
Paying sex workers is illegal in South Korea.
An even larger group, 39%, argued that paying for sex is necessary because the elderly have no choice. That's fewer than the 31% who said prostitution is unacceptable.
The Korea Herald reported on Sunday that more than half of the sexually active senior citizens said they buy anti-impotence pills, and 20% of them said they used sex toys.
The South Korean government has written to a number of Sydney mayors asking them to snitch on Koreans found to be involved in
The move comes on the back of figures suggesting at least 1000 of its nationals are working in the local sex industry.
A letter sent by Jin Soo Kim, the Sydney Consul General for South Korea, has requested them to advise us immediately of any information on Korean nationals involved in illegal sex practices, either as a victim or an offender . The
letter says the consulate has a police attache ready to support enforcement activities where needed .
One mayor who received the letter, Hornsby's Nick Berman, said: It's not every day a foreign government writes to me about anything. So when I get a letter on something so disturbing, I take it very seriously.
South Korea is understood to be pursuing reprisals against its nationals who willingly participate in the industry here, including a year in jail and compulsory return to Korea. More serious offences, including sex trafficking, can lead to 10 years in
South Korea sent its special ambassador for overseas Koreans, Moon Hayong, to Canberra in December to meet senior foreign affairs officials and federal police. There have been reports of tensions between the two countries over the sex issue.
A district court judge in South Korea has requested that the courntry's Constitutional Court review the constitutionality of a law punishing sex
workers. Judge Oh Won-chan of Seoul Northern District Court argued in the request:
Sexual contact between adults, unless it involves coercion or extortion, should be left for the parties to decide in view of their right to self-determination. The current law does not reflect a change in social views that the state should not interfere
in such matters.
There is little evidence that punishing sex workers is effective in curbing the sex trade. Also, they are some legal issues regarding how to draw the line between forced or voluntary prostitution.
Subject to the review is the clause 1, article 21, of the nation's criminal law which stipulates that both the purchasing and selling of sex carry a penalty of up to 1 year in prison or a fine of up to 3 million won.
This is the first time that the law on prostitution, enacted in September 2004, has been brought to the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court now must decide within 180 days and the original trial will be suspended until its verdict is out.
Ostensibly keen to be seen to be making an effort to rid South Korean of its vices and corruption, South Korean Prime Minister, Ms. Park Geun-Hye, has implemented a national job scheme offered to those with a simple penchant for nosiness, or possibly an
overzealous sense of nationalism.
Park has expanded a policy in which citizens act as professional whistleblowers or bounty hunters for organised crime . Under the legislative interpretation of Korea's current sex industry legislation, virtually aspect of sex work falls
under the definition of organised crime . Park has failed to specifically identify whether the sex industry will fall under her organised crime whistleblower program; however, given that the outsourcing of law enforcement has also been
something of a boon for local governments and administration with, local administrators claiming that They can save money on hiring (police) officers, and that the fines imposed on offenders generally outstrip the rewards paid to informers. For
example, the reward for reporting illegal garbage dumping is about $40, whilst the fine is about 10 times as much.
Currently the professional-do-gooders for money community , as they refer to themselves, have concentrated on anti-social crimes such as dumping garbage at camping sites, coin-operated coffee machines in Internet sites lacking proper
sanitary tags, and publically disposing of cigarette butts inappropriately. However, as more South Koreans are attracted to the seemingly well-paid and romanticism of the self made spy , whistleblower or bounty hunter industry, some
are taking on specialities; for example, professional spies who sell information about the sex industry to the government are known within their community as seongparazzi .
As for the Park regime's new plan to stamp out organised crime, Korean sex workers have made the following statement:
Prostitution is already illegal in Korea. That is why sex workers cannot ask for protection during their work. Rather than protecting sex workers, the police violate their human rights during crackdowns. Amidst all this, this new policy will pose a new
threat to the survival of sex workers. With bounty hunters at large, sex workers will have to hide in the shadows where there is neither safety nor a regular income. This policy is also dangerous as it may direct public frustration at the Park
administration's incompetency, incapacity and dishonesty towards sex workers by defining sex workers as the delinquent others. Stigmatising minorities as criminals and putting them into dangerous circumstances represents nothing short of a witch hunt.
To most of male, female and transgender sex workers, sex work is a matter of survival. Before asking sex workers why would they go into this business, the government should reflect on the circumstances that renders sex work inevitable. A weak social
safety net, prejudices within Korean society, and the attitude of Korean society towards poverty should be held accountable. Sex workers constantly have to be afraid and will have no access to workers' rights and human rights as long as prostitution is
deemed a crime and prostitutes as filthy.
We, the members of Giant Girls, the Network for Sex Workers' Rights, express our outrage over this incompetent and irresponsible government announcement and declare that we will take every measure against the situation.
The debate on legalizing prostitution has heated up in South Korea as the Constitutional Court began reviewing the law that criminalizes the sex trade.
The antiprostitution law was enacted in 2004. The law stipulates that both purchasing and selling of sex carry a penalty of up to one year in prison or a fine of up to 3 million won. It gives exemption to people forced into prostitution, leaving only
voluntary sex workers -- many of whom oppose the law -- subject to the punishment.
A woman accused of selling sex for 130,000 won filed for a constitutional review of the law in 2012. The woman argued that punishing voluntary prostitution, especially when the sex worker has no other means of income, was a violation of fundamental human
rights. Her request for a review was granted by the Seoul Northern District Court and eventually by the Constitutional Court.
Those who are against the antiprostitution law claim there is little evidence that punishing sex workers is effective in curbing the sex trade. According to government data, the number of female sex workers increased by 3.8% from 2010 to 2013, in spite
of the law. According to a study last year by the Gender Equality Ministry, almost 80% of female sex workers were in their 20s and 30s as of 2013.