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To stop prostitution, police target landlords

July 21,2016
Police are making headway in their battle against prostitution in Korea and now, in addition to taking down prostitution rings themselves, they have also started targeting landlords.

In March, police raided a prostitution venue called “Lip Cafe.” After booking the broker, police sent a warning to the owner of the building. About three months later, however, the place was once more busted for prostitution.

“I let the tenant stay,” the building owner said, “because he promised in writing he would never run the prostitution venue again.”

Nevertheless, police booked him on a charge of aiding prostitution.

Since last year, police have been making landlords responsible for prostitution venues that operate on their property. When police find such venues, they first send a warning to the landlord and if prostitution is found in the building again, the landlord is booked for complicity.

The Special Law on Prostitution stipulates that persons who are complicit in prostitution shall be sentenced to three years in prison or fined up to 30 million won ($26,325).

Although providing prostitution venues is considered a crime, it was previously rare for police to punish landlords - until last year.

This policy changed when police discovered many prostitution brokers continued their business in the same building simply by changing the name of the business or the name of the venue owner on paper. Those working in studio flats, for instance, were found to have continuously run their parlors simply by moving to different flats within the same building.

Police believe this was made possible because landlords turned a blind eye.

“The aim of the policy is to punish immoral building owners who overlook prostitution venues in their own buildings because they think there’s no problem as long as they receive their monthly rental fee,” said Kim Dong-su, a director from the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency.

The number of landlords police sent warnings to fell from 1,524 in 2015 to 1,297 in 2016. The number who were booked also went down in the same period from 226 to 161, according to the police agency.

Due to this shift in police policy, landlords have been clearing their buildings of prostitution.

“I nullified my contract with a broker and notified him he had to move out of my building within one week,” said a 54-year-old landlord who owns a studio flat near Seolleung Station in Gangnam District, southern Seoul.

Another landlord in Gwangjin District, western Seoul, said, “I found out that a prostitution massage room was operating in one of my buildings only after police notified me, because I live far away from Seoul. I’m thinking of personally taking charge of the building so that such crimes don’t happen again.”

“The landlords booked by the police are fined by the prosecution and they get a red mark on their social records,” said Sohn Hui-taek, a director from the National Police Agency. “That makes the punishment quite effective.”

BY SOHN GUK-HEE, SHIN SOO-YEON [shin.sooyeon@joongang.co.kr]


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