Translated by Nathan at Korea Beat:
Unintended effects from the Special Law on Prostitution continue to multiply. One Weekly Chosun writer decided to check out a new one for himself.
It is August 19th at 8 pm in officetel A near Seollung Station, on line 2 of the Seoul Subway. It is a mixed-use officetel just over 70 meters from Teheran Street. I’ve come here after calling a broker for “officetel prostitution” whose contact information I found on an adult website.
I arrived at the officetel and called the broker again. The broker said, “right now I only have two girls. One is 168 centimeters tall and size 55, the other is 160 centimeters and size 44, so choose one of them.”
After negotiations the broker said, “take the elevator to the 11th floor.” I arrived at the 11th floor and after giving my money to a woman who looked to be in about her mid-thirties she said, “go to room ○○”. All of the regular rooms on the 11th floor are residences. The room the broker sent me to was 59.5m² (18 pyeong), just a totally normal one-room apartment. There was a bed for two, desk, sofa, TV, refrigerator, and washing machine — and waiting for me, a woman in her twenties.
A new species of prostitution, “officetel prostitution”, is rapidly increasing at officetels in the downtown shopping and business districts of Seoul. Prostitution deals are flourishing in the offices and apartments of officetels near Gangnam Station and the Yeoksam, Seollung, Apgujeong, and Nonhyeon-dong neighborhoods north of the Han River. Johns learn about it through adult websites on the internet or through printed flyers. After the passage of the “Special Law on Prostitution” in 2004 the number of brothels in red-light districts declined, but prostitution has changed into more sophisticated, hidden forms.
Ms. Kang, the 25-year old I met at officetel A, said, “this room was rented by the ‘section chief’ [meaning the broker]. since I communicate with the section chief directly, I don’t know how many other girls there are.”
According to the police and prostitution workers, brokers specializing in officetel prostitution often have 40 to 50 girls working for them. But they always communicate “one on one”, so it is difficult to know for certain.
Officetel prostution is flourishing because customers can come and go as naturally as if it were their own apartment or office. Ms. Kang, the prostitute, said, “since they aren’t seen by strangers a lot of people come even during the day.”
In fact officetel prostition appears to be in boom times. At one famous adult internet site there are tens of ads from brokers for officetel prostitution. In one forum on the site, members can even make a reservation for the next day after looking at the women’s profiles.
On the 19th I called 12 brokers whose information I got from the site and all but one said, “please wait a moment while I check if there are reservations tomorrow night.” Then they would say, “call tomorrow” and hang up.
Police appear helpless to stop this form of prostitution. An investigator with the Gangnam Police Department said, “the brokers and the prostitutes have things arranged in a way that makes it difficult to uncover them. Officetels are set up with individual apartments and offices so we are not allowed to just to go opening doors even if it’s to investigate.”
This appears to be the physical result of the 2004 “Special Law on Prostitution”. At the time there were an estimated 1,696 red-light districts nationwide employing 5,717 women as prostitutes. After the passage of the Law, police cracked down so that in September of 2007 there were 995 red-light districts employing 2,508 prostitutes. So compared to before the Law was passed, there are 700 fewer red-light districts and half as many women working in them. The famous red-light districts Seoul 588, Busan Wanweol-dong, and Daegu Jagalmadang have nearly vanished.
But the number of people arrested for prostition continues to increase, from 12,737 in 2003 to 29,236 in 2007. Because of the Special Law and police crackdowns the number of red-light districts has decreased but hidden, unorthodox forms of prostitution are going on as before. This is the “balloon effect” of crackdowns on prostitution — push it here, it moves over there, and nothing really changes.
The citizens’ organization Support Center for Victims of Sex Trafficking (다시함께센터), which helps victims of prostition to support themselves, said, “with the Special Law and strengthened enforcement by police, prostitution has changed from being located in buildings, as if it were a business, to moving around and relying on the internet. To deal with this new species of prostitution the communications law should be updated and increased investigations carried out on the internet.”