SEOUL — Nearly 4,500 people have been arrested or charged since South Korean police kicked off a prostitution crackdown one month ago, police officials said Friday.
The arrests include people both allegedly buying or selling sex, with more than half of the arrests being men who sought sexual services at brothels, South Korean barber shops (sometimes used as prostitution fronts), massage parlors and other locations.
More than 800 brothel owners and 660 female sex workers have been arrested or charged during the crackdown, officials from the Korean National Police said. Under the new laws, brothel owners can be punished with up to 10 years in jail and a fine of up to 100 million won (around $90,000).
Some 400 sex workers were detained but released after police concluded they had been forced into prostitution.
People seeking to buy sex also can be given jail terms now, something that was not possible under previous laws.
In addition to the South Korean police crackdown, U.S. military officials have been pushing their own campaign to stop servicemembers and civilians from involvement in the sex trade and human trafficking. U.S. Forces Korea has established off-limits areas and sends out “courtesy patrols” to ensure such businesses aren’t being patronized by U.S. personnel.
Violators can be charged with breaking curfew or trespassing, but under current military law cannot be charged for buying prostitutes’ services. Under a proposed change next year in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, however, such an act could result in one year’s jail time and a dishonorable discharge.
The proposed revision has drawn both praise and scorn from soldiers and civilians living overseas.
Statistics recorded by the South Korean police since the crackdown began show that nearly 25 percent of all sex workers began in the industry — whether by choice or coercion — when they were minors.
The South Korean government has estimated the entire sex trade, including legal entertainment ventures closely associated with the sex trade, brings in more than $20 billion a year. The government plans on shutting down all of the estimated 70 red-light districts in the country beginning in 2007.
Brothel owners and sex workers have protested the decision with rallies and marches, saying the government should provide them with alternate job training.