UPDATE: According to another piece in the Shin Dong-A

  • 21 percent of girls in the red-light districts took up their trade after the Special Law went into effect;
  • Only 0.9 percent of red-light district brothels have shut down since March 2005;
  • 76 percent of johns said they would continue to seek the services of the willow world;
  • The average number of clients a night a red-light district girl sees has decreased from 6.8 to 3.7

Also, the working girls of the red-light district near Pyeongtaek Station have formed an extra-legal union (very interesting but long interview with the union president), which has actually engaged in collective negotiations with the distict’s pimps. The union, though not legally recognized, collects membership dues, has a list of rules and regulations, maintains an office and even runs a website.

ORIGINAL POST: Freelancer Lee Nam-hun hit the streets to report on the state of Korea’s sex industry in the wake of the Special Law on Prostitution for the Shin Dong-A magazine.

The Special Law on Prostitution was a law that went into effect to eliminate prostitution, but paradoxically, it has expanded and transformed new prostitution markets. The shrewd responses of prostitution providers, which have nullified the aim of the law, and persistent demand have combined to make prevalent a sexual culture more abnormal and perverted than before. Concerns raised before the enforcement of the special law, such as whether it would really uproot prostitution or whether it would simply drive it further underground, have become a reality.
Now, Korea’s prostitution culture could be summed up as, “Anywhere, Anycall.” This means that anytime, anywhere, all you need is to make one call or one mouse click to easily buy or sell sex. It’s like now the entire city is lit with pink lights, even if the pink light has dimmed somewhat in the red-light districts thanks to the heavy police crackdown. In particular, the new form of the “entertainment” industry is developing at a blinding pace.

Lee outlines the way in which the Korean sex industry is developing and diversifying to keep up with the changing legal and sexual environment. From mobile massage parlors that combine nightime sightseeing with sex to group sex-filled weekend getaways, the industry is thriving despite the efforts of the government to eradicate the oldest of professions.

Massage parlors say thanks
2cha_club.jpg You might think that all the recent busts involving Korean “massage girls” in the United States, the Korean “massage” industry must be suffering. Apparently, that’s not the case. The sex industry, like any good industry, is transforming faster and faster to become more efficient, with services now centered on massage parlors, perhaps the sex industry’s greatest success. One massage parlor near Gangnam Station, Seoul’s most famous neighborhood for massage parlors, even told Lee that he was thankful for the Special Law on Prostitution, and that “it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that massage parlors were the greatest beneficiary of the Special Law.”
In the old days, massage parlors used to be places where you went to get a massage, usually by a blind masseuse. Not any more. Now, women “as beautiful and thin as Gangnam room-salon girls” give massages and provide sexual services.
There are some 100 massage parlors in Gangnam. Most are like luxury hotels, with whirlpools and other facilities. They cost 180,000 won a night, but there’s never a want for costumers. One owner said he gets about 100 customers a weeknight, and 150 a night on weekends.
Those with lighter wallets can go to Jangan-dong in Dongdaemun-gu, where they provide just as quality service as Gangnam for 100,000 won. Said one owner, “I get about 150 customers a day on weekdays and about 300 on Saturday night. There are even foreigners who come through word of mouth.”
Don’t look at me.
At one time, Jangan-dong was famous for its “barber shops,” where you could get a simple massage and a little decadent entertainment. Now, however, the barber shops are being replaced with massage parlors and room salons specializing in sexual services. This transformation is also thanks to the Special Law. Said one room salon owner who ran a barbershop in the area for five years, the barbershop owners switched establishments because they felt barbershops would be next on the police hit list due to their image. He said the expected police crackdown isn’t happening, but with more people heading these days to room salons and other entertainment establishments, it seems they chose well.
The sexually-oriented room salons are called “2-cha clubs.” 400,000 won a person takes care of booze, snacks and sex. This is a good deal, actually, since most downtown Seoul room salons charge at least 600,000 won for this kind of service. The “2-cha club” owners are taking care to improve the quality of their services by employing young women in their 20s in a bid to shed the “barbershop” image, i.e., places where you went to get serviced by middle-aged women.
How can these places operate so openly despite the police crackdown? Well, they’ve installed CCTV cameras outside their buildings to monitor passing cars and the sidewalks. They also have secret exits and inner doors that are locked in order to buy time once a raid is in progress. Their most potent weapon, however, is information. Although owners don’t spell it out, they all suggest that they have prior knowledge of when a crackdown will be launched.

Give a guy a hand
Recently, massage parlors have been transforming into luxury operations. Some provide free meals, a change of socks in the morning, ironing services and just about everything the male with money could want in a rest-and-recreation establishment. With so many places popping up, the competition is fierce, so some are trying to get a leg up on the competition with special events. Want two girls at once, or maybe three? It might cost you more, but the massage parlors are the place to go to take care of those special needs. These places operate so freely you wouldn’t even know the Special Law was in effect.
There are other new and unusual prostitution systems popping up. Typical of this new wave is the “mobile massage parlor.” Essentially a modified van, they move around the city center, offering passengers a massage and a lot more. These vans, which leave from Gangnam and pass through Myeongdong and Jongno before heading back to Gangnam, offer literal “Sex and the City” tours where you can get your rocks off while taking in Seoul’s nighttime scenery. One guy in his 30s who has done the tour said, “Having sex in the van was a fantastic experience.”
Then there are the daeddal-bang. As the Korean name might suggest, they offer customers handjobs. These places have been in business for about two years. But since the Special Law, the number of customers has increased. Since there is no direct genital-to-genital contact offered at such institutions, there is some confusion within the judiciary over whether these are subject to punishment. In October, Seoul District Court found the owner of one daeddal-bang guilty of violating the Special Law for peddling handjobs, but in December, Suwon District Court found another owner innocent, explaining that providing helping hands for hire could not be seen as a legally forbidden service.
While the lawyers debate, the daeddal-bang have been transforming into so-called “hard-bangs.” These places, joy oh joy, not only jack you off, but let you cum in the girl’s face or in her mouth. In Lee’s words, they bring to mind scenes out of a third-rate porno film. The area around the Baengbaeng Intersection near Gangnam Station is full of daeddal-bang. Some of them are so popular that in the early morning, you can see lines of people waiting.

Sex excursions
Some of the working girls forced from the red-light districts have gone into freelance work. One of the more “shocking” examples of this is the “sex excursion.” Former pimps gather together their good customers and arrange two-day, one-night trips outside of Seoul with young female accompaniment. Such trips will usually cost 400,000-500,000 won, not including other assorted costs.
There’s no set program on these little outings, but essentially, they amount to non-stop screwing. Lots of touchy-feely in the car, humping upon arrival, dinner and drinks, and more screwing. Because these do not take place within set places, there is almost no police control over them.
One self-employed businessman who recently went on one such excursion to Chuncheon said, “You can engage in every sex act you can imagine.” Group sex is said to be basic. The businessman said everything was arranged over cell phone; he never saw the pimp’s face. He paid half the cost before hand to a bank account, and the rest to the girls upon arrival at the destination.
Then there is gataek massage. Up till now, we’ve had chuljang massage, where the girls would come to a place selected by the client (often a love hotel) to provide an oil massage and a little lovin’, but now, former red-light district professionals are getting one-room apartments in Nonhyeon-dong and Sinsa-dong and turning them into private massage parlors, secretly building up clientele through word-of-mouth. Their services usually cost around 100,000 won, which is more expensive than what they provided in the red-light districts (usually around 60,000 won), but since they were providing both an oil massage and a more comfortable environment, providers felt the extra cost was worth it. Said one 24-year-old gataek masseuse, “Frankly, the conditions are much better than when I was in the red-light district. I’m not under surveillance, and I’m never forced to do anything. I’m just concerned when I might become a crackdown target, and that some of the people who come to my place might turn out to be criminals. So when possible, I take safe costumers I get through people I know.” She said she usually gets about five to six customers a day.
The biggest problem with this form of practice, however, is control of STDs. In the red-light districts, girls were, to some extent, regularly tested. But not here.
Lee also said gataek massage places weren’t the only businesses with this sort of problem. He noted that among the freelance hookers that service the Hoehyeon-dong love motels, there were a couple of foreign girls, and it was hard to believe they got regularly tested for STDs and AIDS.

Fusion yojeong?
When one thinks of a yojeong, we often think of the secret meeting places loved by politicians, especially during the Park Chung-hee era. In the Gangnam area, however, there are now sprouting up “fusion yojeong” that set customers up with “elite” girls for the price of an ordinary room salon. For 300,000 won, you get unlimited booze and snacks and a chance to meet a college-educated girl in hanbok (the cost, I’m assuming from the piece, does NOT include sex). Many of the girls play the buk or janggu and/or speak a foreign language. Some even have day jobs.
According to one yojeong madame, the key strengths of a yojeong is the amateur freshness of the girls and the luxurious style such places exude. Many of the frequent guests are corporate CEOs and executives. Standing in front of one Gangnam yojeong, Lee noticed that most of the cars that stopped in were luxury models. To give some sort of idea of the business scale, parking and front-door duties alone required three or four people.
Yojeong do not nakedly promote their sexual services, but if guests ask, they provide. Costs are a bit more expensive than in other places, however.

More to Bukchangdong than tofu
Calling girls to a karaoke club is pretty common, but these days, we’re seeing more and more “Bukchangdong-style” karaoke clubs popping up. These places combine the usual karaoke club girl services with “Bukchang-dong-style hardcore” service. What does this mean, you might ask? It means the girls get almost completely naked as they dance, sing and drink. Apparently, this style of entertainment is nearly universal in Bukchang-dong, but is now spreading to karaoke clubs outside the neighborhood.
However, unlike Bukchang-dong, where the girls don’t head to a hotel afterward, “Bukchangdong-style” karaoke clubs are pretty open about post-karaoke service. You can find many of these places near Gwanghwamun. Most of these places either have permanent girls or get them delivered to the location.
Lee checked out the services of one such Gwanghwamun establishment. It cost 120,000 won per person. The interior wasn’t as luxurious as a room salon, but it wasn’t a hole, either. After getting the booze and snacks, some girls who appeared in their early 30s enter the room. After a little drinking and talking, it was “show time.” Talking with one of the girls, the reporter learned that prostitution took place regularly there; after agreeing to a place and price, the customers would leave and meet up with the girls outside. Because there’s no law against hiring karaoke girls, this practice is almost completely beyond police control since things take place outside the establishment, where the parties could always say they are meeting privately. Many of the girls who work there used to work in Bukchang-dong.

Oh, no, not the Japanese-style fetish thing!
Finally, there has been a growing interest in Japanese-style “fetish” clubs. These aren’t wide-spread… yet. But according to Lee, there are three or four places that are doing a pretty good trade. To use such a place, you much first make a reservation through the Internet and choose your particular fetish—nurse, stewardess, secretary, that sort of thing. Anyway, through lewd conversation, “skinship” and role play (some involving actual sets), guys can act out their fantasies. There is no genital contact, but since the guys are supposed to wack off, it’s really no different from prostitution. One fetish club owner said her establishment was getting more interest from Korean men than expected. She noted that because these clubs won’t be raided, customers can come/cum with peace of mind.

What’s so positive?
Lee concluded by pointing out that the Special Law on Prostitution has not only failed to eradicate prostitution, but it also may have made the situation worse:

Last September, the Ministry of Gender Equality marked the one-year anniversary of the Special Law on Prostitution by saying that the law could be evaluated favorably as it has corrected men’s mistaken views about sex. But on the streets, the law didn’t feel very effective. Ku Seong-mo, the president of the entertainment specialty website “Pandora 21,” said, “The government is favorably evaluating the effectiveness of the law because is can’t see the essence of the issue. Ask anyone in the industry, and they’ll laugh at the government’s evaluation.”
The situation has instead grown worse and side-effects are popping up one after the other. Korea’s prostitution culture, in which there is now a lack of STD control, is growing darker and more abnormal, and has deteriorated to the point where it’s harming social health. Behind the outwardly positive situation is a negative one that doesn’t appear easy to rectify.

Well put.