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Friday, 5 June 2015

Red Light Districts of Korea (NSFW!), Part IX: Mia-ri Texas, Seoul Seongbuk-gu






Extract from the Dong-A Ilbo: Hookers complain of hardship after anti-prostitution law enacted (September 22nd 2012)

Eight years have passed since a law on cracking down on prostitution was enacted in Korea. Yet one can still hear on the streets at night, "Please take a look if you want a girl for the night.”

This was what was heard Tuesday night as soon as a Dong-A Ilbo reporter walked into a dark and narrow brothel street nicknamed “Miari Texas” in Seoul Seongbuk-gu's Hawolgok-dong Precinct. Many middle-aged women were calling customers by waiving their hands and said the above. The characteristic red lights that represent brothels disappeared because the madams kept the red light inside by covering the light with curtains, but prostitution was still going on.

A drunken man withdrew money from a nearby ATM and began talking with a pimp in a narrow path on a discount. Police came by and saw them speak but walked away. People said as long as the windows were covered with curtains, police would do nothing. After making a deal, the pimp pulled back the curtains and showed the man the girls inside the window.

Miari Texas has survived many crackdowns, including the 2000 war on brothels led by Kim Kang-ja, police chief at the Jongam police station and a series of strong law enforcement actions after the anti-prostitution law was enacted in 2004, as well as redevelopment of Seoul districts. About 400 to 500 call girls are said to work for 150 brothels in the alley.

Before the law took effect, police never interfered in the flesh trade except in the case of a serious criminal offense such as human trafficking, minors working or confinement. Ritual crackdowns did happen but police did not go too far as long as pimps paid their prostitutes well and had them get regular health checkups to prevent and treat sexually transmitted diseases. These practices, however, were meant to be stopped after the 2004 law was enforced.

One prostitute said, “We’ve become like chickens in a chicken coop to be taken one by one as police needs occur. Customers nowadays are those who don’t care if police catch them, which means this job’s become tougher because we’ve got to deal with very bad guys.”

A pimp said, “I think prostitution reduces the rate of sex crimes because men can alleviate their sexual desire by buying sex here. Don’t you think legalizing prostitution will help reduce the number of sex crime victims?”

Most prostitutes in Miari Texas are more than 30 years old. One of them said, “Younger ones moved to work for different types of prostitution to make more money and avoid police crackdown.”

The number of customers seeking to buy sex in Miari Texas has dwindled due to a stronger crackdown. As a result, many sex workers have moved to massage parlors and studio apartments in residential areas of the city.

A 24-year-old prostitute began her career in Miari Texas in 2008 but when her income shrank, she immediately moved to small stores deep in the city. To avoid police, she had to find a more secure place to sell sex. This helped her avoid crackdowns but exposed her to a greater danger because she had to meet customers without men who protected those working in Miari Texas. “In October 2010, an ambulance had to take me to the emergency room because I was hurt badly by a sadistic man,” she said.

Many prostitutes working for themselves via the Internet or private apartments are runaways and college students, and expose themselves to a higher risk of violence than those who belong to brothels. Those who meet customers personally say they have heard about hookers who did not get paid after sex or who were bitten after being tied up in a hotel room or whose intercourse was videotaped.

A 22-year-old prostitute said, “When working at a brothel, I could deal with bad customers because I had people to help me nearby, but at studio apartments, I can’t do that because I’m alone there. Even the pimp forced me to have sex with him, saying he would get me more customers.”

A group devoted to protecting a person`s right to sell sex insist that prostitutes be called sex workers. Kim Yeon-hee said, “Thinking of selling sex as a job like any other gave me a sense of self-awareness. It’s even rewarding to read my customers’ comments on the Web that they were satisfied.”

Leading women’s groups in Korea agree that society should not label prostitutes as criminals, but consider prostitution a social ill. One women’s group insisting that the anti-prostitution law be retained said, “Those who say they are sex workers make up a small portion of all prostitutes who’ve been ripped off while under the threat of constant sexual violence. The criminal act of selling and buying sex shall not be considered labor.”