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2009/08/14 11:39 KST
Sex industry invents "kissing rooms" after police crackdown

By Kim Ye Ran
SEOUL, Aug. 14 (Yonhap) -- As police crackdowns on brothels in traditional red light zones have been intensifying after the special anti-prostitution law was passed in 2004, desperate owners have found creative ways to fly below the police radar.

   Brothel owners have swiftly changed the faces of their businesses, which masquerade as massage parlors or telephone chat rooms, but authorities have also clamped down on these new sex shops.

   Amid this game of cat and mouse, a new kind of business has appeared -- "Kiss Bang" or kissing rooms, where men pay to kiss female workers.

   Such establishments are an unintended effect of the special anti-prostitution law passed in 2004, which penalizes both the dealer and client of sex services, experts say.

   "The balloon effect accompanies the special anti-prostitution law. Those brothel owners have rearranged themselves in different ways to avoid the law since the crackdown has become suffocating," said Song Ki-hwan, a member of the Nationwide Movement for the Banishment of Prostitution (NMBP), which was launched June 2.

   "This is why the number of red light districts has declined, but other forms of sex services have appeared rapidly."

   According to a triennial study conducted by the Ministry of Gender Equality in 2007, the number of brothels in Korea decreased 41 percent, from 1,679 shops in 2004 to 992 in 2007. Also, the number of women working in the sex industry decreased from 5,567 in 2004 to 2,523, dropping 55 percent.

   However, the number of massage parlors and other businesses suspected of engaging in the sex trade nearly doubled to 9,451 in 2007 from 5,481 in 2005.

   The number of kissing rooms in operation, however, remains a mystery.
"We don't know how many of these kissing rooms there are across the country, but they are proliferating quickly," said Shin Hei-soo, co-representative of the NMBP and associate professor at Ewha Woman's University's Graduate School of International Studies.

   Although one Web site says kissing rooms offer no sexual services beyond kissing, anti-prostitution civic groups are worried that additional arrangements can easily be provided by kissing rooms that could lead to prostitution.

   "We are worried that it is highly likely that after kissing, additional, actual sex might be arranged," added Shin.

   But it is difficult for authorities to crack down on this new type of business because there are no laws against kissing for money.

   Kissing rooms grew enough in number to cause concern within the government, which began to study ways to cope with them.

   Gender Equality Minister Byun Do-yoon said last month that her ministry would, with the aid of local police, carry out a large-scale crackdown on kissing rooms and other new types of sex related establishments.

A government official said she is studying ways to cope with this new kind of business, and that the government recognizes the special anti-prostitution law unintentionally bred the problem of altered sexual services.

   "For now, the only thing we can do about kissing rooms is strengthen on-the-spot crackdowns and find an actual sex trade there. Then we can suspend their businesses for sexual acts," said Kim Ga-ro, director of Women's Rights Planning Division at the Ministry of Gender Equality. "We are closely studying ways to penalize these establishments."
Administrators are not the only ones who try to overcome the difficulties in coping with the changing face of the sex trade.

   Police who participate in crackdowns say it is not easy to find these clandestine businesses. Kissing rooms receive clients only through online reservations, and surveillance cameras are installed in front of their buildings, making raids difficult.

   "It is hard to find where these shops are located. Besides, even if we can find the shops at all, they have strict entrance rules. We don't have enough manpower, and there are not enough reports from citizens," said a policeman, who asked not to be named.

   He works for Seodaemun Police Station that covers the Sinchon neighborhood, a student area where many entertainment businesses, including bars and clubs, are clustered.

   Realizing the gravity of the situation, some Individuals and various business associations have decided to clean up the streets themselves.

   "We have decided to take part in this movement because numerous massage parlors are involved in the sex trade. Now we found out that new types of sex businesses like kissing rooms have appeared. We are studying ways to deal with it," said Song Ki-hwan, a massage parlor owner who is also a representative of National Massage Association.

   In the last two months, the NMBP created a map marking all the establishments involved in prostitution in Yeoksam-dong, an entertainment hotspot in Seoul's affluent Gangnam district, located north of the Han River. The map was handed over to the Gangnam Police Station.

   "The Gangnam map is only a start. We are planning to create a map that will reveal the location of possible sex trade shops north of the river very soon, and the map will include kissing rooms. We will hand the map over to the authorities for punishment (of offenders)," said professor Shin of the NMBP.