Epidemic spread of sex trade in South Korea
by Howard Frank
May 27, 2011
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All the cities in South Korea are rather crowded with so-called Cocktail Lounge, which are actually pimping centers of prostitution. Most of such sex outlets operate round-the-clock, with sex-workers ranging from 15-40 appearing in colorful costumes and heavy make-ups mostly waiting for wealthy businessmen or tourists. Though prostitution is illegal in South Korea, authorities are generally very reluctant in taking any action against rampant growth of this trade in the country. In some cases, high profile government and military officials are also seen regularly attending the Cocktail Lounges in Korea, where, some of them even maintain permanent 'mistress' or concubines. But recently Seoul police started crack-down on the brothels, which has already angered the sex workers in the country.
Protesting this sudden action, hundreds of prostitutes and pimps rallied last week near a red-light district in Seoul, with some unsuccessfully attempting to set themselves on fire. A crowd of about 400 people, mostly women wearing baseball caps, masks and sunglasses, chanted slogans like, "Guarantee the right to live!" during the four-hour rally. At one point, about 20 protesters in their underwear and covered in body and face paint doused themselves in flammable liquid in an apparent attempt to burn themselves, but others stopped them from lighting any flames. Some of the women then sat in the street and wept and screamed, while other protesters consoled them.
According to The Korea Women's Development Institute, the sex trade in Korea was estimated to amount to 14 trillion South Korean won [US$ 13 billion] in 2007, roughly 1.6 percent of the nation's gross domestic product. The numbers of prostitutes dropped by 18 percent [to 269,000] during the same period. The sex trade involved some 94 million transactions in 2007, down from 170 million in 2002. The amount of money traded for prostitution was over 14 trillion won, much less than 24 trillion won in 2002. It is largely speculated that the decline in number of prostitution in South Korea in 2002 was sue to acute economic crisis in that country. It is also claimed that, prostitution went once again on rise since 2006. With the end of the era of Korea under Japanese rule in 1945 following the Japanese surrender to US forces, state-registered prostitution was made illegal by the governing United States authority in 1947, and the law was re-confirmed by the new South Korean parliament in 1948. Nevertheless, prostitution flourished in the next decades as the law was not enforced. From the 1960s and until today U.S. camptown prostitution still exists outside U.S military bases (for example outside Camp Casey & Camp Stanley). This was the result of negotiation between the Korean government and the U.S. military, involving prostitution for United States soldiers in camptowns surrounding the U.S military bases. The government registered the prostitutes and required them to carry medical certification. The U.S military police provide for the security in these U.S camptown prostitution sites and detained the prostitutes who were thought to be ill to prevent epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases. This government involvement was in the past motivated in part by fears that the American military which protected South Korea would leave.
In 2003, the Korean Institute of Criminology announced that 260,000 women, or 1 of 25 of young Korean women, may be engaged in the sex industry. However, the Korean Feminist Association alleged that from 514,000 to 1.2 million Korean women participate in the prostitution industry. In addition, a similar report by the Institute noted that 20% of men in their 20s pay for sex at least four times a month, with 358,000 visiting prostitutes daily.
South Korea is both a source and destination country for human trafficking. Mainly Russian and Southeast Asian women are brought into the country for prostitution by Korean employment agencies, many of whom are tricked into thinking they will have a legitimate job. Many female migrant workers are recruited by Korean employment agencies to come to the country to work.
A Los Angeles police spokesman said that about 90 percent of the department's 70-80 monthly arrests for prostitution involve Korean women and Los Angeles police estimates that there are 8,000 Korean prostitutes working in that city and its suburbs.
A US State Department report titled, "Trafficking in person's report: June 2008," states that in "March 2008, a joint operation between the AFP and DIAC broke up a syndicate in Sydney that allegedly trafficked South Korean women to a legal brothel and was earning more than $2.3 million a year. Police allege the syndicate recruited South Korean women through deception about the conditions under which they would be employed, organized their entry into Australia under false pretenses, confiscated their travel documents, and forced them to work up to 20 hours a day in a legal Sydney brothel owned by the syndicate."
Hundreds of thousands of Chinese women are engaged in the prostitution businesses such as hugetel, massage parlor, karaoke room, room salon and so on in Korea. Most of Chinese prostitutes are legally staying in Korea by getting green-cards by marrying Koreans, or visas for study, travel, work. About 20,000 Chinese women marry Koreans every year and a quarter of them disguise their marriages. Most of these women are engaged in the prostitution businesses in Korea.
Red light districts in South Korea can compare to those of Amsterdam and Germany. The four main red light districts in South Korea p are Cheongnyangni 588, Yongsan Station, and Mia-ri in Seoul and Jagalmadang in Daegu. While not all of them are operating to full capacity, some still exist while being tolerated not only due to the vast amount of money that is involved in the business, but also in an attempt to control the sex industry.
Other sexual services include Gataek Massaji which is an "in-call" massage where the customer would travel or meet at the masseuse's home or quarters, and Chuljang Massaji or an "out-call" massage where the masseuse travels to the customer's place, love motel, hotel, or another disclosed location.
Since 1945, U.S. troops have been stationed in the Korean peninsula, with their current strength estimated to be 28,500. The country plunged into civil war between 1950 and 1953 and since then, U.S. troops have remained there, claiming to act as a deterrent against North Korea, the country's communist neighbour. Prostitution in the region is a direct result of their presence. The US troops are stationed in South Korea in almost 100 military bases. Large number of South Korean sex workers bear child from American soldiers. Several U.S. soldiers have married local prostitutes, in many cases impregnating them, only to later abandon them.
Since the mid 1990s, more than 5,000 women have been trafficked into South Korea for sexual services for United States servicemen, according to a report from the International Organization for Migration. These trafficked women have typically come from the Philippines, Russia and Eastern Europe and were lured to work as prostitutes in bars frequented by US servicemen stationed in South Korea. Many of these women live a life similar to that of a slave as they are kept from a regular income, live in horrible conditions, are forced to sell sex, and often face violence. "Hidden fees, charges, employer fines, forced savings and other fees often completely deprive these women of salaried income forcing them to sustain themselves on a commission system based on the sale of drinks, and can virtually turn them into indentured servants," the report reads.
The sale of sex takes a diversity of forms, and becomes subtler as our society develops. There are more than 60 areas in the whole country that can be identified as prostitution areas, including red-light districts and military camp towns (Research Institute for Criminal Policy 1993). Most of them have a long history. In addition, entertainment establishments like salons, Karaokes, 'cushion rooms', ticket tea-rooms, massage parlors, steam bath houses, and 'barber shops', together with a variety of food and health-related venues are engaged in prostitution. Recently, the newest trends for prostitution are information rooms - prostitution that relies on phone-services, telephone-rooms (where male clients can make phone calls in one of the dozens of phone rooms to talk directly with sex workers), the internet, and illegal clubs which introduce male members to women, and make profits by taking a proportion of the women's income. Furthermore there is 'compensation dating' where teenage girls go out and have sex with men in exchange for mobile phones, clothes or cash allowances. These establishments and practices are not only found in cities all over the country, but also in the most remote corners of provinces.
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