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[Opinion] Prostitution in Korea

Posted September. 26, 2006 07:02,   


“Prostitution: An Illustrated Social History,” written by Vern and Bonnie Bullough, professors of the State University of New York, vividly demonstrates how old the history of prostitution is and how desperately failed humanity’s efforts were to root out prostitution. The authors point out that the root cause of failure was the fundamentalist perspective that people had to prohibit prostitution for all.

The number of prostitutes in Korea is estimated at 330,000. The Korean Institute of Criminal Justice Policy conducted a survey in 2002 and concluded that 10,000 were located in the red light districts. Considering they are around 20 to 39 years old, they account for four percent of women (eight million) of the same age group. This figure may give Korea the reputation as a “prostitution haven.” The government adopted the “special law on sex trade” in 2004, but the number of sex workers did not seem to dwindle. Law enforcement has cracked down mainly on brothels, while those who sell sex in residential areas were relatively free from the enforcement.

Basically, prostitution has to do with human rights. Rather than taking fundamentalist approaches, the government should take practical measures such as eliminating motives that encourage women to fall into prostitution and cutting the chains of human trafficking, drug dealing, and organized crime. In June of last year, one year into the special law on sex trade that put weight on crackdowns, a national policy research institute pointed out that “since the implementation of the law, prostitution spread to residential areas and sex trading sneaked onto the Internet, where sex selling and buying occur directly, reducing costs and diversifying channels. This made crackdown more difficult.”

The U.S. government took into custody 70 Korean women who were selling sex in New York and Los Angeles. This is not the first case, and such cases have given a black eye to Korean community and might negatively impact negotiations on Korea-U.S. visa exemption. Some say “the incident is the side effect of the special law on sex-trading.” Clamping down in Korea has led to problems in the U.S. This is the so-called balloon effect, which is squeezing one part of a balloon, only to see it bulge out. The measure should not be squeezing the balloon but rather taking the air out of it.

Huh Seung-ho, Editorial Writer, tigera@donga.com