Prostitution is not an uncommon sight in Korea. Although you don’t find corners littered with “working women” there are many appropriate places you can got to to fulfill your needs. Red-light districts become quite prominent at night when blow up balloons appear with a scantily clad women all over them, neon lights turn on for kissing rooms, hug rooms, massage rooms and other such aptly named places; and the floors become littered with promiscuous propaganda advertising all the different levels of prostitution. While these nocturnal places are usually limited to “party areas” where you often go to drink with your co-workers or clubbing with your friends you can find much more of them in other unexpected areas as well.
The “pink-light district” as I call it is a street lined with glass windowed shops where all the girls are displayed under light pink lights. Surprisingly I’ve heard this profession is difficult to get into. Seeing it first hand, I could better understand what they meant since almost every girl was tall, thin and very pretty. I’ll admit it was a bit shocking, seeing how any one of them could have easily been a model. They literally looked like Asian Barbie dolls.
While people say prostitution is legal and there is an actual term for it in Korean, there was a special law prohibiting sex trade established in 2004. While it is not often obeyed (or enforced), last Sunday May 15th and Tuesday May 17th hundreds of pimps and prostitutes rallied together to protest police recent attempts to shut down several brothels in one of the newest and modern malls in Yeongdeungpo (Seoul).
This new mall sits directly in front of the “pink light” district (walk behind the parking lot and you find low level buildings lining the street). Formerly this area was a semi-industrial area with working class families and many living around or near the poverty level. In recent years, the dichotomy has changed with the introduction of the Times Square Shopping mall and several higher living apartments causing a spotlight to be shone on the makeshift brothel sitting behind the area.
The protest started Sunday at Times Square Mall with an attempt to purchase luxury brand name bags with tens of thousands of coins. The payment was rejected and in retaliation, all the coins were spread over the lobby floor and sit-in was started. The protestors claimed the shopping center to being the primary cause for the attempted police shutdown of their businesses.
Tuesday’s escalations consisted of many women dressing in white face paint and robes used for traditional mourning ceremonies while others in red caps and masks. Still others wore masks, full body paint and attempted to light themselves on fire for the cause. No one was injured in this rally and all attempts to become the human torch were stopped by fellow rally members.
The women believe the police to be taking away their way of survival, adding that there are no other options for them. They continue to urge the government to find more humane and realistic solutions in handling prostitution, such as designating special areas for it. They also hope that this method will help lessen the negative view of prostitution.