South Korean brothel owners are keeping a low profile as police vow to get tougher with sex traders in accordance with a new anti-prostitution law.
Police will launch a one-month special crackdown on prostitution on Thursday, when the law takes effect.
People also refrained from visiting brothels around the country on Wednesday, one day before the crackdown begins.
Unlike the previous law that punishes prostitutes, their employers and their clients, the new law will severely punish customers and the sex traffickers who force women, especially teenage girls, into the business.
However, sex trafficking victims will be protected.
According to the new law, brothel operators, or those who run facilities for sex trade, will be subject to severe punishment of up to 10 years in prison or 100 million won ($87,000) in fines.
Even if a person is caught arranging prostitution, he or she may face a maximum of seven years in prison or up to 70 million won in fines. Clients paying for sex will also be punished sternly.
Police said one to three special squads from every police station throughout the nation will be mobilized for the crackdown.
The main targets are brothels in Seoul's Miari and Chongryangri as well as other facilities providing sex, including karaoke bars, night clubs, massage parlors and barber shops. Flourishing sex trade sites on the Internet are also subject to the clampdown.
The Defense Ministry is also taking steps to prevent soldiers from visiting brothels.
The ministry has instructed enlisted men and officers not to have sex with prostitutes while on vacation.
But some legal experts are skeptical about the new law, which they claim has a short-term effect on prostitution. They fear that operators of the sex trading business will use more sophisticated methods to avoid police crackdowns.
And some brothel owners said they regard the special law and the police crackdown as only stopgap measures, adding that they will carry on with their cash cow industry.
USFK to combat prostitution near bases
With a special law on the sex industry set to take effect Wednesday, the United States Forces Korea (USFK) has begun actively eliminating prostitution near its bases, according to the U.S. military newspaper Tuesday.
"U.S. military officials in South Korea say they embarked on an aggressive program to combat the sex trade and human trafficking," the Stars and Stripes reported.
The USFK will take various steps, including increasing both uniformed and non-unformed patrols in known sex-trade enclaves, putting suspect establishments and even entire neighborhoods on "off limits" lists, and creating a human trafficking hotline for service members to report suspected cases.
USFK commander Gen. Leon LaPorte testified about military efforts to combat human trafficking in a Tuesday briefing before the U.S. House of Representatives�� committee on armed services.
The commander stressed cooperation with host countries as being important in addressing the issue of human trafficking and prostitution.
A USFK official said U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz also called for the elimination of prostitution.
According to an investigation headed by Joseph Schmitz, U.S. Department of Defense inspector general, USFK service members were encouraged to further their understanding of human trafficking problems.
South Korea's new law on prostitution was designed to strengthen punishment for sex buyers and brokers and protect sex workers.