A writer for the Sports Seoul recently wrote an overview of prostitution in South Korea today, touching on a couple of unusual businesses which have gained in popularity since the police began running redlight districts out of business four years ago.
City downtowns are fatigued from an overflowing number of immoral businesses. At night these businesses shoot up like mushrooms in the rain, openly advertising themselves in bright neon, mocking the police. It is public knowledge that these show bars, ddeok bars, fetish clubs, doll rooms and more engage in prostitution or similar acts. Even after the passage of the Special Law on Prostitution they only grew in scope and continued to buy and sell sex. And it doesn’t only happen at these immoral places in the hearts of cities. Internet sites allow people to arrange trysts with so-called vicarious lovers and prostitution also occurs through internet chatting. This kind of prostitution is difficult for police to uncover, so sex continues to be bought and sold across the cyber world. On a summer night I went into one of these city-dirtying businesses.
In a hot summer in the city the nights are even hotter than the days, because these businesses compete hotely to draw in customers out looking for vice.
The one thing they all have is “rooms”. Sometime in the past they all started putting the word “bang” at the end of their names.
One which is said to exist only in our country is the daeddalbang. These are designed to avoid the reach of the Special Law on Prostitution. There are two kinds. The first one has female students perform sex acts and the other has customers perform them themselves.
These rooms begin to grow up more than four years ago when police enforcement was weaker, and frequently advertise themselves on shady flyers as sports massage centers or men’s relaxation rooms.
There is controversy over their legality. On November 29, 2005, the Suwon Supreme Court ruled them to be legal. The law against prostitution, the Court said, defines prostitution as “sexual or similar acts performed for profit with unspecified people,” but the point of dispute is just what a sexual act is. By the court’s definition of “using the body, including the mouth or anus, or an instrument,” they would appear to be engaged in prostitution, but in the next breath the court declared them legal, saying, “in daeddalbangs the server does not engage in sex acts or in oral or anal sex… an important point is that the person leading the activities is not the customer but the server… and also that there is no chance that in the course of those activities there is any danger that sexual relations will occur.”
But more recently courts have begun treating them as criminal acts, making it impossible for them to act with impunity.
Also recently stepping into the spotlight are “show rooms” (쇼방). Also known as show bars, here the women dance on a stage while wearing numbers, and men drinking at the bar or at tables select them by number, after which they move to a bedroom together and have sex. It’s also becoming popular to call them “ddeok bars”.
In June a party at a show bar in Gangnam was discovered to have over 500 people on the guest list — lawyers, businessmen and other professionals.
“Doll rooms” are still as strong as ever. At a doll room men enter a room with a life-size doll and have sex with it. Doll rooms have their origins in Japan, where they put up signs saying “Sex Doll Love Hotel” and allow men to have sex with realistic dolls rather than prostitutes, and can choose the face, body type, and hair color they prefer. A number of men seek them out for their low price compared with live women and the impossibility of running afoul of the law.
There is another kind of “room” responsible for such businesses in city downtowns — the 보도방, which links the businesses to the women. They take introduction fees from the businesses and service fees from the prostitutes, acting as middlemen.
In the old days 보도방s would run women to room salons and 단란주점s, but these days they aim at prostitution. Because of this they send women to barbershops, of course, and phone rooms, 화상방s, outcall massages, and to be doumi (”helper”) girls in noraebangs.
Most of them women who do this are in their twenties or thirties. There is a not-inconsiderable number of housewives, office workers, and students. Most of them have gone into this kind of work to support their cost of living after getting into financial difficulty or credit card debt in part-time jobs, and got involved in prostitution through 보도방s. 보도방s would certainly not exist were it not for the prostitution markets in every city.
These days they are even getting demand for male doumis. On August 13th tens of men including college students were arrested for working as doumis in disreputable businesses.
The women and teens division of the Daegu Metropolitan Police agency (대구지방경찰청) arrested a 24-year old Mr. Kim for hiring male servers and bringing them into prostitution. A 22-year old Mr. Park was among six men arrested for acting as doumis, and 42-year old Mr. Jang was among eight noraebang owners arrested.
According to police the 보도방 owner Mr. Kim hired the men, some of whom were college students, paying them 30,000 won per hour to drink with and entertain his customers. And if chosen for sex by those customers they were to be paid 200,000 won per instance.
At businesses like that it is easy to hire women and a snap for women to get such jobs, and if you have to choose one business to represent night culture it would be them.
Immoral businesses are not found only in downtowns. There are many women who look for men who want to choose them without going anywhere.
They mainly seek out men looking to by sex through the internet. One route is the “love by proxy” website (애인대행사이트). It’s fairly well-known that these sites allow people to hold an imaginary relationship, for pay, for several hours or several days and that prostitution follows. An increasing number of women want to make money from these sites, saturating the market.
They frequently meet with the men with promises of prostitution. Called “conditional meetings” (조건만남), they typically occur through internet chatting. Before they meet the men find the women whose looks and prices match their desires.
It’s becoming popular for these to be not one-time meetings but rather to include agreements of long-term sexual relationships and to be the woman’s sponsor through payments of considerable sums. These relationships are typically between female college students and affluent middle-aged men. If you go to areas of Gangnam with officetels you can hear rumors that these young women live in apartments rented by the middle-aged men and sometimes engage in secret trysts.
There are also sponsor cafes that take fees for connecting men with female college students. One worker at such a cafe said, “there are a lot female college students who want to buy brand-name goods and look for a sponsor but don’t want a long-term relationship, so they become ‘travelling doumis’ who accompany men on overseas business trips.”
Even if it’s not Louis Vitton bags they’re after, there still are plenty of college students doing it for their tuition and other school fees. According to research by the part-time jobs site “Arbei Heaven” (알바천국), half of all college students, facing high costs, have thought about doing illegal work. There are many kinds of “kiss arbei” from brothels to love by proxy.
29% said the biggest reason for falling into this line of work was tuition fees. 25% wanted more spending money. 24% said they wanted to make money quickly, and 23% said they had an urgent need for money.
For these various reasons are cities tainted with vice. For these reasons immoral business spring up like poisonous toadstools, with the Special Law on Prostitution effective only here and there.
One can’t avoid the criticism that the Special Law on Prostitution, enacted to stop prostitution and shield its victims, aiding them in achieving independence, is not enough to stop the culture that supports these businesses which can wriggle out from under the police.
And because of this these businesses even move into homes and apartments.
Today city streets are filled with immoral places. This is a time when more effective policies are needed.