Go to contents

[Op-Ed] The Balloon Effect

Posted April. 22, 2009 06:29,   


A month after an anti-prostitution law took effect in September 2004, the owner of a sport massage parlor in southern Seoul filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court. He called the law unconstitutional for suppressing a basic desire of men and violating the people’s right to freely choose their occupation. A year later, the court dismissed his petition, saying his basic right to choose his occupation was not infringed because he was not involved in prostitution.

In the two months after the implementation of the law, 6,791 violators were arrested. The crackdown discovered the ways and places of the sex trade, such as on the Internet, entertainment establishments, outcall massage services, small rest places or “rest-tels,” and sports massage parlors. The number of traditional houses of prostitution has fallen. This is the “balloon effect,” when the other part of a latex balloon bulges out when one part is squeezed. The number of those violating the law has shot up from 17,248 in 2005 to 36,705 in 2007. Most of the illegal prostitution houses in Seoul’s Jangan-dong district have been shut down, but prostitution has spread to residential areas and office buildings. Police have uncovered a 10-story building in Seoul’s posh district of Gangnam housing hostess bars and bedrooms to provide sexual services. The building is like a high-end large balloon that never bursts.

An owner of a rest-tel who ran the business for seven months paid hefty fines, but is said to have earned 500 million won (371,000 U.S. dollars). Given this, getting rid of prostitution in Korea has a long way to go. Heavier punishment or adoption of a Japanese measure is among alternatives under consideration. Japan has set up legal prostitution districts by drawing red lines on maps to prevent the sex trade from spreading to other areas. In Ecuador, where the sex trade is legal and brothels are clustered in certain areas, licensed prostitutes are said to be healthier and earn more. The British weekly Economist says that like other businesses, the costs and risks of prostitution rise when the practice becomes illegal.

San Francisco held a referendum in November last year on the legalization of prostitution. Proponents said decriminalization will reduce crimes such as human trafficking, organized crime and drug offenses and enhance public health and security. Opponents, however, said the opposite results will occur. The proposal was rejected by a vote of 58-42 percent. Though prostitution is illegal in the city, however, it lingers in thriving massage parlors and spas, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. This shows the dual nature of humans.

Editorial Writer Kim Soon-deok (yuri@donga.com)