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588 Red Light District to go down in history

Posted February. 17, 2017 07:09,   

Updated February. 17, 2017 07:15


The 588 Cheongryangri District, the one of the first prostitutes’ street and the biggest red light district in Korea, will soon become history. The city government of Seoul will press ahead with tearing down the district starting next month. Instead, the area will be used as premises of hotels, department stores, officetels, and high-rising buildings of residential and commercial complex. Having housed about 200 shops, the 588 district was one of the three major brothels in Korea along with Miari Texas and Cheonho-dong Texas. The neighborhood is trying to purge itself of a stigma as the largest brothel in Korea and transform into a new, clean city.

The origin of Korean brothels dates back to the early 1900s from the red light district formed near residence areas of Japanese people. The authorities adopted a legal system, allowing prostitution and imposing taxes. In 1947, the U.S. military government in Korea scrapped this system, and in 1961, the Korean government enacted the Act on Prevention of Prostitution, but their lack of clampdowns effectively meant acquiescence to sex trafficking. Since the Roh Moo-hyun administration introduced the Special Law on Prostitution in 2004, Korea’s brothels have begun to go downhill. Conditions are not so different with the well-known brothels in other regions such as Wanwol-dong in Busan, Jagalmadang in Daegu, or Yongjugol in Paju.

It is no stretch to call prostitution the oldest occupation in history. Prostitution was practiced even in the ancient cities such as Sumer and Babylon. Some cite the balloon effect, where a dent made in one place only ends up inflating a bump in other. Recently, sex traffickers are finding themselves thriving on online venues such as Facebook and Twitter. If this is any indication, among the 34 member states of the OECD, South Korea and Slovenia are the only countries that banned prostitution altogether. Six nations are allowing prostitution to a limited extent while 26 have legalized it across the board.

In March last year, the Constitutional Court of Korea recognized constitutionality of the Special Law on Prostitution, a bill designed to punish not only buyers of sex but prostitutes. The decision reflects a view that unlike adultery, social consensus has yet to be reached in Korea to recognize sex-selling as a legitimate job. For those women, however, prostitution is a means of survival, not an agenda for some sophisticated discussion on sexual autonomy or freedom to choose occupation. Policymakers need to make more effort to think of a way to help their survival.