Go to contents

Hide-and-Seek at Night

Posted September. 22, 2004 21:58,   


“Our establishment is still fine. And you can go out for ‘seconds’ for only 130,000 won, which is cheaper than what they would charge at a nightclub.”

It is the evening of September 21, just two days before the “Special Law on Sex Trade”—encompassing the “Law for the Protection of Sex Trade Victims” and the “Law Regarding the Punishment of Sex Trade Brokering and Other Acts”—goes into effect, in the entertainment district of Yeoksam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul.

A karaoke employee is openly soliciting customers. But at the nearby “pleasure bars,” the target of an extensive, month-long police crackdown set to start at midnight on September 23 to coincide with the institution of the new law, the atmosphere is markedly different.

One such establishment, which takes up all 10 floors of a single building, is virtually empty, with just the odd thirty-something regular or two occupying the tables. An employee at the pleasure bar laments, “Our custom has dwindled to one-third of its regular size.” The owners of some establishments have already put their places up for sale, while several others are contemplating switching to a different industry altogether.

One Hundred Ways of Avoiding Prosecution—

However, most of the pleasure bars currently in business are busy devising ingenious plans for evading the police and the “pesky” arm of the law.

The employees at a massage parlor in Gangnam have begun to manage their regular clientele through an online café, because regulars are less likely to report their business to the police.

Another Gangnam-based establishment is training its “girls” on how to avoid prosecution while out on “seconds” with the customers. One inside source explained, “We’re telling our girls to insist that they met the man in question at a nightclub and simply hooked up, as well as to stop carrying multiple condoms in their bags.”

A Mr. B (40), who runs a pleasure bar in Yeouido, Seoul, quipped, “We’re making preparations to provide on-the-spot service, by bringing a cot into the private rooms or making a separate room altogether for ‘special’ orders.”

An employee at another establishment in the area remarked, “We’re considering the option of ushering our customers to a nearby massage parlor,” and added, “We expect things to return to normal once the police round-up is over.”

Protecting Sex Trade Victims: Women Welcome It While Club Owners Frown—

The overriding reason for the institution of the “Special Law on Sex Trade” is to protect the victims of the traffic in sex.

When this law goes into effect, women in the sex trade will be excluded from the list of violators if they were coerced into engaging in sexual acts. Neither will they be required to pay back the “advance” they borrowed from the owners of such establishments.

On the other hand, sex customers may end up serving time in prison for their actions, rather than undergoing the routine “warning and fine” treatment currently in practice. “Once we identify someone who works in the industry, we will look into her phone records, etc. to actively uncover the men who engaged in sexual acts with her,” stated a source inside the police.

Establishment owners are complaining that “the new law will allow girls to get away with receiving tens of millions of won in advances and then just running off with the money.”

The Response—

Citizens and experts are generally united in their opinion that the new law will trigger a definite improvement in the entertainment culture.

Policy Director Kim Geum-ok of the Korea Women’s Associations United (KWAU) emphasized, “Companies and corporations should take this opportunity to amend their business entertainment and group dining culture.”

A source with the Neulpureum Women’s Support Center implored the police to conduct a thorough investigation, saying, “If the crackdown concentrates only on red light districts and other easily accessible areas where sex-related businesses congregate—which only accounts for one-fifth of the total number of such establishments—the new effort to root out traffic in sex will end up as a mere gesture, like putting a band aid on a bullet wound.”

On the other hand, Professor Kim Kyeong-ae of the Department of Women’s Studies at Dongduk Women’s University pointed out that the law “is likely to push sex trade underground and cause it to expand through anonymous networks like the internet.” “Significant effort should be exerted to transform sex education and the entire sexual culture throughout our society,” she emphasized.

Some citizens even worried that “excessive prosecution could lead to an increase in violent crimes toward women.”

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice announced on September 22 that a “Measure to Prevent Recidivism among Sex Trade Offenders” has been prepared in time for the institution of the new law.

According to this plan, those who have fulfilled their sentences for violating sex trade laws will be prevented from working in the same industry through the close supervision of individual probation officers. If such persons fail to participate in related education or comply with the instructions of their probation officers, they will be subject to serious disciplinary measures including the revocation of their probation or suspended sentence.