[PRO] Let’s get real about the sex trade
Should prostitution be registered and restricted?
*After a series of heinous sex crimes and sexual offenses against children stirred Korean society, a proposal to register and restrict prostitution is under discussion. Kim Kang-ja, a visiting professor at Hannam University, led the massive crackdown on the red-light district when she was the chief of Jongam Police Station. She calls for the designation of areas where brothels could legally operate. But women’s groups and others criticize such a system as blatantly disregarding human dignity and social values. Kim and Cho Bae-sook explain their contrasting views on the proposal to restrict and register prostitution.
Before the anti-sex trade law was enforced, there had been two groups of people buying and selling sex in Korea. The first group includes sex workers trying to make a living and their sexually isolated customers, such as illegal immigrants, people with disabilities and single men satisfying their sex drives.
The second group is the prostitutes who are selling sex to make money for luxury goods and the patrons who are hiring prostitutes even when they have wives or girlfriends. More than 70 percent of sex workers and customers fall into the second category.
What is needed immediately is financial support for the livelihoods of the first group and an expansion of the police force to control the sex trade of the second. However, it is not easy to secure financial support.
Also, we would need at least 1,000 police officers devoted to a crackdown operation. The special law on prostitution was enacted when we did not have sufficient resources to properly enforce it.
As a result, various adverse effects have arisen. First, the survival of the women making a living from prostitution is threatened. They sell sex to buy food. Since there are no police units devoted to the sex trade crackdown, security police are mobilized for the operation, and they mainly target the red-light districts. The prostitutes work at shady brothels to avoid the crackdown. Moreover, they often are robbed and assaulted by customers. Nonetheless, they are reluctant to contact police because they could be punished for illegal prostitution.
It is a serious issue that the human rights of prostitutes are infringed upon while their most basic right to make a living is not guaranteed.
Meanwhile, the second group of prostitutes changes its methods of operation to continue to sell sex. In order to avoid the police crackdown, they penetrate residential areas.
Therefore, the crackdown on prostitution is likely to create bigger problems. Because of the shortage of police, we don’t have sufficient law enforcement capacity to respond to criminal cases, including sex offenses, and every single officer is valuable. It is risky to reassign the police force from maintaining public peace to controlling prostitution.
We need to consider registered brothels as a realistic alternative. It is a lesson I learned from years of experience cracking down on prostitution as the police chief of an area with a major red-light district. Considering the actual circumstances, it is hard to ban prostitution completely. But legalizing it would only increase the second type of sex trade. It would be best to designate certain areas and allow prostitutes only to work in registered brothels.
That could at least partly contribute to the suppression of sex crimes. It could prevent sexually isolated men with strong sex drives and weak self-control from being tempted to commit sex crimes. Also, prostitutes could make a living, eliminating the need for the government to financially subsidize them.
In addition, existing facilities assisting prostitutes should be relocated to the designated areas to provide social rehabilitation programs to encourage prostitutes to leave the industry.
These centers should work together with the police to watch and control human rights infringement by both customers and brothel owners.
They can also provide prevention and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.
Sex trade outside the designated areas must be strictly controlled. The second group of customers is reluctant to have their identities exposed. When caught, they feel highly ashamed.
By allocating additional finances, police forces devoted to the crackdown operations should be added to focus on these customers and prostitutes. Then we would be able to improve the ailing sex culture of a Korean society where sex can be bought anytime, anywhere.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is former police chief of Jongam Police Station and a visiting professor at Hannam University.
By Kim Kang-ja