Red-light districts keep on growing

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Red-light districts keep on growing

“The government has no official statistics on sex trade since 2007.” I couldn’t believe my ears when I spoke with a Ministry of Gender Equality and Family official last month. I was looking for the latest government data as I prepared for a feature report on sex trade. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family is the agency mainly in charge of monitoring sex trade. However, the official was firm. “We have surveyed the sex trade conditions by outsourcing to an external research agency in 2010, but it was not approved as official data and cannot be released.”

The outsourced research the official mentioned was the “2010 Sex Trade Survey Report” by the Institute for Gender Research at Seoul National University. I could obtain the report through an office of a National Assembly member.

After reading the report, I understood why the ministry was reluctant to release it. The survey was conducted in 2010, six years after the enforcement of the special act on sex trade. Because the objective of the law was to eradicate sex trade, I expected the industry to have shrunk drastically. But the report’s conclusion was just the opposite. Let’s look at the number of red-light districts, where more than 10 brothels are concentrated. In 2007, there were 35 red-light districts around the country, and the number increased to 45 in 2010. The number of sex workers increased from 3,644 to 3,917. The report suggested that the red-light districts, which were under control after the enactment of the sex trade law, were thriving again.

My field investigation confirmed the trend. A considerable portion of red-light districts around the country are still in business. New variations of brothels and services are operating. I surveyed bars and salons in major nightlife districts in Seoul, Busan, Ulsan and Gwangju, and more than 100 businesses in a one kilometer radius said they could arrange prostitution. Major cities now have “sex trade new towns.”

According to the special act on sex trade, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family is to conduct a sex trade survey every three years. Surveys were done in 2007 and 2010, and each cost hundreds of millions of won. In 2007, the outcome was published, but in 2010, it was not. The ministry claimed the report was not released because the statistics could be distorted. However, there are suspicions the ministry was reluctant because of the expansion of the sex trade. After all, the first report was released.

In Korean society, prostitution has established itself as an industry. When the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and local governments are not confident enough to release publicly funded survey reports, the eradication of the sex trade in the country will not happen anytime soon.

*The author is a national news writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Jeong Gang-heon
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