[FOUNTAIN]Facing reality in sex tradeThree years ago, female former police superintendent Kim Kang-ja, who waged a war against the Miari red light district, created a stir as she raised the issue of state-regulated prostitution. While contemplating how to resolve the dilemma between the reality and the ideal, she thought it might be time to discuss state-regulated prostitution openly. As a female police chief, she had been leading the government’s efforts to eradicate the illegal sex trade, so her proposal was more persuasive than any other.
Society’s response to prostitution has varied throughout history. In ancient Greece and Rome, there were many different kinds of prostitution, including a state-run system that was officially registered and paid taxes. In the Medieval period, when Christianity ruled, prostitution was officially banned. However, in actuality many public brothels existed that paid taxes. A large-scale unit of prostitutes was organized and sent with the Crusaders. After the Renaissance, the sex trade prevailed, and there were an estimated 50,000 prostitutes in 17th-century London.
In ancient China and Japan, the states acknowledged the industry and designated red light districts. The Joseon Dynasty officially recognized prostitutes linked to the government offices. In the 20th century, most countries legally banned the sex trade, but there is no country where the industry has completely disappeared. The Netherlands and Germany have legalized the industry.
Two weeks ago, a new anti-prostitution act was enforced. In contrast to Ms. Kim’s suggestion, the new law has elevated the level of punishment for those selling and buying sex. The law has met a mixed response. Many are concerned that strict enforcement will make the sex trade more covert and might increase the sex crime rate. But official comments only emphasize that the eradication of prostitution is what we should do. The only open opposition was a demonstration staged by 2,800 prostitutes in Yeouido, Seoul recently.
Those championing the ideal of eradicating prostitution are raising their voices, but we don’t hear the voices of those who recognize the reality of prostitution and want to minimize the side effects. I am worried about the aftermath of an idealistic system that neglects the reality. Let’s listen to Ms. Kim again.
by Lee Se-jung
The writer is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
More in Columns
A cautionary tale
A government in disarray
China’s thin skin
The Korean War from China’s view
Who’s laughing now?