|News: Tough laws aim to curb sex trade in Korea|
Tough new "zero-tolerance" laws to curb the sex trade and trafficking in women went into effect yesterday and authorities vowed to enforce penalties that include lengthy prison terms and heavy fines.
Brothel owners and prostitutes face prison sentences of up to seven years and heavy fines, while pimps can be jailed for up to 10 years. Foreigners caught in illegal sex acts can be deported.
Critics warn that any laxity - one of the major problems in the past in curbing the sex trade - will make the laws hollow and not change a national attitude to prostitution as undesirable but an accepted practice.
Most of the lights in Cheongnyang-ri 588, one of the famous red-light districts in Seoul, are turned off by midnight as the strict anti-sex trade laws were implemented yesterday.
"We have put even stricter enforcement on brothel owners, particularly those who confine women and commit violence," Ministry of Justice official Jung Soon-chul said.
Buying and selling sex has been criminalized in Korea for some years, but corrupt policemen have basically allowed brothels and other sex providers to conduct their business without facing prosecution.
"Although I reported to the police, they did not even show up, and if they do once in a while, the brothel owners had been already notified," said a women who was involved in prostitution from 1998-2001 and gave only her family name Park.
Appearing at a briefing in the Korea National Police Agency this week to preview the new laws, she said, "The bribery was so severe that I even had to provide free sex to newly appointed policemen."
Policemen were often provided with a free one-night stand in a red-light district in return for not turning in brothel owners or other sex purveyors.
Asked why they were in the sex trade, 55.1 percent of 673 respondents told the Korea Women's Hotline in 2003 that they got involved "via a drinking party or for a reception for business partners." Only 14.1 percent said it was "to fulfill sexual desires."
In another survey by the Ministry of Gender Equality, 68.5 percent of 1,000 males and females agreed that in schools, the military and in companies, there is an underlying national culture that encourages the sex trade.
Men who solicit a prostitute apparently have few qualms. In a survey of 577 people who paid for sex, only 18 percent felt guilty while 26 percent thought nothing about their action, the Korea Women's Hotline said.
"Korean people tend to be generous to the sex trade," said Chung Bong-hyup, director general of the Women's Rights Promotion Bureau in the Ministry of Gender Equality.
Overall, one out of every two Korean men has had at least one session with a prostitute, the survey said.
As part of its new anti-prostitution drive, the government is placing posters and advertisements in subway stations and on portal Web sites warning people of the penalties as well as health issues.
"It is almost impossible to change people's awareness just by invoking the criminal law. It will take time and need promotion and education in the long term," said Chung.
Some people are concerned that prostitution, commonly viewed as a necessary evil, will become more clandestine and increasingly difficult to control.
Illegal sex in places such as barbers' shops and small inns which provide short-tem room rentals - and even in cars or other vehicles in hideaway areas - is expected to surge.
"Although the authorities may maintain strong control of prostitution, there will naturally be loopholes. And these can happen anywhere in our own neighborhoods instead of in areas which we can police," said Lee Sang-don, a law professor at Korea University.
The new Special Laws on Sex Trade provide harsher punishment for people trading in sex and anyone buying it. Commercial sex is "intolerable by its nature," the government said.
Brothel operators face the most severe penalties. All assets gained from trading in sex can be confiscated and they can be fined up to 70 million won and be imprisoned for up to 7 years.
Anyone caught paying for sexual favors also runs the risk of being sentenced to one to seven years in prison, fines of up to 3 million won, or community service.
The new laws help protect women lured into the sex trade. Anyone forced to become a prostitute is protected fom punishment. Debts owed to pimps will be deemed invalid. Previously, over 80 percent of women prostitutes were weighed under with huge debts caused by exorbitant interest imposed by pimps or other sex purveyors.
A pimp who forces a woman into prostitution against her will can face up to 10 years imprisonment and 100 million in fines.
Foreign women caught performing illicit sex or involved in the sex trade can be deported.
The U.S. military is no exception. U.S. military officials in Korea "embarked on an aggressive program to combat the sex trade and human trafficking," the U.S. military newspaper "Stars and Stripes" reported Sept. 21.
"The army force increased both uniformed and non-uniformed patrols in known sex-trade enclaves; putting suspect establishments and even entire neighborhood on 'off limits' lists," it added.
By Jin Hyun-joo
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