Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

The Police Crackdown in Red Light Districts in South Korea and the Crime Displacement Effect after the 2004 Act on the Punishment of Intermediating in the Sex Trade

Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

The Police Crackdown in Red Light Districts in South Korea and the Crime Displacement Effect after the 2004 Act on the Punishment of Intermediating in the Sex Trade

Article excerpt

In September of 2004, the government of South Korea enacted the 'Act on the Punishment of Intermediating in the Sex Trade'. Included in the law are strict penalties such as large fines and long prison sentences for both the owners of brothels and their patrons. The enactment was initiated after shocking news of the deaths in a series of fire events of 24 sex workers confined in brothels within red light districts. The first tragedy was in Gunsan city in September 2000. Five sex workers who were confined in a sex establishment were unable to escape a fire and were killed. Five months later, four sex workers were killed in a fire in Busan city and, in January 2002, 14 sex workers, including two owners, were killed in Gunsan city. Subsequent investigations found that many sex workers were trafficked into the sex industry and treated as commodities by sex business owners. For example, some workers were sold in debt bondage to brothel owners. Numerous social activists and NGOs have raised concerns about existing policies and laws prohibiting prostitution, the cruel and inhuman conditions and practices of the sex business industry, and the human rights of sex workers (Presidential Commission on Policy Planning, 2008).

Immediately following the enactment of the Act on the Punishment of Intermediating in the Sex Trade, intensive police crackdowns were implemented on the owners of brothels and their patrons. A year later, the number of brothels and sex workers had reduced dramatically. According to the Criminal White Paper of the National Police Agency in South Korea, the number of brothels in red light districts decreased 37.5% from 1,698 in September 2004 to 1,061 in September 2005. In addition, the number of sex workers decreased 18.4% from 3,142 to 2,653 in the same period.

Despite aggressive police crackdowns, which resulted in a visible reduction of brothels and sex workers, many observers in Korea have suggested that the sex trade in South Korea has been displaced from red light districts to more clandestine locations, including barbershops, karaoke parlours, massage parlours, and even cyberspace (Ann, 2007; Choi, 2007; Heo, 2008; Kang, 2005; Lee, 2009; Park, 2006). They argue that the act does little more than suppress the sex trade in one place, which then causes it to resurface somewhere else. Crime displacement occurs when a criminal activity is relocated from one place, time, target, offence, or tactic to another, as result of some crime control initiative. Choi (2007), for example, observed that, unlike traditional brothels in red light districts, which were clustered together, the new forms of sex trade establishments that emerged after the act was implemented were scattered in a residential area and located among other small businesses, including dry cleaners and hardware stores. According to Choi, new patrons cannot find these new sex establishments because they are not distinguished by signs, and most of them operate in closed buildings with an underground entrance that is barred by an iron door. This new form of the sex trade business can be understood as spatial and tactical crime displacement from a red light district to a residential area and from traditional brothels to clandestine venues.

In prostitution, displacement after implementing control measures is not a new phenomenon. Studies in other countries such as Vancouver, Canada (Lowman, 1992), New York City, USA (Murphy and Venkatesh, 2006), and two British red light districts (Hubbard, 1998) found displacement from red light districts to other areas after control measures were implemented.

Whatever its specific type, displacement is an adaptive response and is a central concern of researchers, policymakers, and others concerned with crime control/prevention and proactive policing. An examination of the impact of the new anti-prostitution law in South Korea will provide the potential for a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of displacement, if any, as well as important implications for policy. …

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