Crackdown on sex trade in S. Korea nets 500 arrests
Stars and Stripes October 10, 2004
SEOUL — Just over two weeks into a sweeping crackdown by South Korean police on brothels, nightclubs and other sex-trade fronts, officials have reported more than 500 arrests and say phone tips reporting suspected illegal activity have increased markedly.
Police officials used to get one or two calls a day nationwide reporting prostitution, a senior police official said. But now, with the publicity surrounding the crackdown, they’re getting 30 to 40 calls daily reporting illegal sex-trade activities.
That, said Superintendent Lee Geum-hyong of the National Police Agency, also is due in part to a new 20 million won (roughly $17,000) reward system for information leading to the arrest and conviction of human traffickers.
Lee is heading the special police anti-prostitution campaign, which debuted last month after harsher laws went into effect.
While prostitution has been illegal in South Korea since 1948, officials said, it has long been an open and rarely punished practice. Brothel owners operate in the open, with nearly 100 distinct red-light districts throughout the country. The system thrived on bribes and sexual favors, police officials have acknowledged, vowing to change the way they operate.
On a recent weekend night on “Hooker Hill,” the red-light district in Itaewon, just outside Yongsan Garrison, the police crackdown — coupled with a 9 p.m. U.S. Forces Korea curfew — seemed to be having an effect.
More than half the nightclubs on the hill were shuttered, with only a few women calling to passers-by. Before the crackdown, the street would be teeming with men and prostitutes.
This past week, a pair of laconic “working girls” sat on the steps of a club near the top of the hill, complaining about the lack of customers. At the bottom of the hill, a group of South Korean police officers stood watch, a presence that caused many prospective customers to continue walking.
When one young foreigner walked by the club, the girls half-heartedly called out to him, offering a crackdown-related discount.
Police officials say they will maintain the pressure, even when a special 30-day intensive regulation period ends Oct. 31.
Sex-trade workers and club owners, for their part, are fighting back. According to the South Korean government, the sex trade brought in $20 billion a year nationwide before the crackdown. A group of brothel owners, who face 10-year jail sentences under the new, harsher laws, formed a nationwide association to protest the move.
Brothel owners and some sex-industry workers have held numerous public protests, demanding the South Korean government provide alternative job training if the crackdown continues.