By Park Si-soo
The government is moving to establish legal grounds for the punishment of operators of “host bars” where female customers are “entertained” ― often sexually ― by young male hosts.
Several hundreds of upscale host bars, known as “hobba,” are enjoying a booming business in Nohyeon-dong, Seocho-dong and other districts in southern Seoul, according to police and industry insiders.
It is no secret that these male hosts not only serve drinks to their customers but also sell sex.
However, the police have had difficulty cracking down on the operators of host bars and their male employees as these male hosts “do not exist” under current law.
Under the law, only females can be “jeopdaebu,” a term in Korean referring to those who serve drinks and offer other entertainment to customers at bars or clubs.
This means that even if male hosts are caught providing “sexual services” to their customers, punishing their employers and the hosts could be elusive as there is no law defining the job title of these male hosts.
Experts said as long as the law limits the definition of “jeopdaebu” to women, such male prostitution is legally viewed as an act taken voluntarily on mutual agreement.
If caught, these male hosts claim they are just waiters not jeopdaebu, taking advantage of the legal loophole.
To mend the loophole, the government is moving to revise the law ㅡ it was discussed in the Cabinet meeting at Cheong Wa Dae, Tuesday.
“The discussion was quite comprehensive and productive. But a concrete decision has yet to be made,” said an official from the Ministry of Justice.
Officials from the welfare, justice and gender equality ministries as well as the National Police Agency discussed the proposal to change a related decree so that men can be included in “jeopdaebu,” the official said.
But they failed to reach an agreement as altering the decree could mean that the government acknowledges male hosts, the official said.
Police estimate the number of host bars at about 200 in Gangnam alone, one of the most bustling districts in Seoul.
According to the National Police Agency, the number of women who were caught paying for sex or procuring sex for others stood at 6,500 in 2010, with the total yearly sales at host bars in Gangnam estimated at more than 300 billion won.
The number of female customers visiting hosts bars is estimated at more than 10,000.
호스트바 주인, 아직도 처벌 어려워
정부는 여성 전용 호스트바 주인을 처벌할 수 있는 법적 근거를 만들려 하고 있다. 호스트바는 남성 접대부들이 성적인 접대도 하는 것으로 알려져 있다.
경찰과 야간 업계에 따르면, “호빠”로 알려진 잘나가는 호스트 바 수백 곳이 강남의 논현동과 서초동 등 지역에서 성업 중이다.
이들 남성 호스트들이 여성 고객에게 술 시중 뿐 아니라 성까지 팔고 있다는 것은 비밀이 아니다.
그러나 경찰은 현행법 상 남성 접대부는 “존재하지 않기” 때문에 호스트바 주인과 남성 종업원을 단속하기가 쉽지 않다.
현행법상으로 여성들만이 술집이나 클럽에서 손님들에게 술과 그 밖의 유흥 등을 접대하는 사람을 지칭하는 한국말 “접대부”라고 불릴 수가 있다.
이는 남성 접대부가 “성접대”를 하다 잡힌다 해도 이들 남성 접대부의 직업에 대해 정의를 내려준 법이 없기 때문에 술집 주인과 이들을 처벌하기가 어렵다는 뜻이다.