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Posted : 2012-02-20 18:04
Updated : 2012-02-20 18:04

Border town brothels cohabit with military


A prostitute in white clothes talks with a man in his 20s about the price for sex at Yongjugol, Paju in Gyeonggi Province, Sunday.
/ Korea Times photo by Lee Tae-hoon

This is the first of a two-part series that explores the shady relationship between the military and the sex industry in Korea. ㅡ ED.

By Lee Tae-hoon

PAJU, Gyeonggi Province ㅡ Lee Eun-ju, a loan officer at a savings bank, was shocked to see a huge red light district, known as Yongjugol, right next to a police station and military base at this border town when she came here to check the appraisal of a house.

A pimp showed up in place of the owner of a two-story house registered as a residential building as she asked why barely-dressed women in four-inch heels were standing behind a glass window as if on sale at a supermarket.

She made it clear that no loan could be approved for the brothel, but wondered how prostitution, which is illegal here, could be so openly practiced.

“It seems obvious that the police have turned a blind eye to the local sex industry, especially for servicemen wanting to buy sex, possibly due to bribery or undue pressure from decision-makers,” she said.

Yongjugol operates virtually around the clock. About 10 establishments are open for business during the daytime and some 60 operate at night, most of which continue to lure customers until 6 a.m.

Military’s symbiotic ties with brothels

Some military commanders in border areas prefer to have brothels like Yongjugol near their frontline units as this helps reduce the transmission of disease and debts of servicemen, said a deputy defense minister on condition of anonymity.

“While I was in active duty in a frontline unit, I realized that many of my servicemen, especially non-commissioned officers, were in serious debt simply because they could only buy sex after paying more than 500,000 won ($445) for drinks at bars within their limited travel area,” he said.

“So I extended the travel limits to a town with a large brothel where they could buy safe sex for less than 100,000 won after finding myself unable to relieve their debts and stress of serving in an area with hardly any recreational or cultural facilities.”

Prostitutes at brothels receive regular medical checkups to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as herpes and AIDS, and are instructed to use condoms.

Those who secretly sell sex at “singing rooms,” “kiss rooms,” “phone rooms,” “massage parlors” and “room salons” are believed to be more vulnerable to STDs.

He argued that the government should make more efforts to provide an environment where troops can relieve their stress by engaging in leisure and learning activities by constructing facilities such as indoor swimming pools, gyms and libraries.

Risk free sex in Yongjugol

Several servicemen could be spotted playing billiards, drinking beer and wandering around Yongjugol in casual dress on the weekend, though the number of civilians substantially outnumbered them.

Yoo Shin-soon, who has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years and serves as head of the Yongjugol reconstruction committee, estimated that about 5 to 10 percent of the clients at the brothels are servicemen.

A 1st Infantry Division sergeant on two-day leave said Sunday that it was practically risk free to go for sex in Yongjugol as long as he was dressed in civilian attire.

He said many conscripted soldiers keep civilian clothes at their barracks, which they are not supposed to do, to elude the surveillance of military police when they leave.

“I and many of my fellow soldiers go to Yongjugol as it is famous for excellent services at a reasonable price with a lady of your choice,” the sergeant said asking for anonymity as he is not authorized to talk to the media.

Lt. Col. Hwang Tae-ho, head of the military police at the 1st Division, admitted that his 100-strong team is not authorized to ask the identity of non-uniformed persons, nor supervise them.

“There was no single case of 1st Division troops found to have bought sex in Paju, including Yongjugol, over the past six years,” he said. “We have yet to proactively deter the practice of soliciting illegal sexual services among servicemen largely because we don’t have authority to crack down on brothels.”

He said his patrol team passes by Yongjugol in a car after sunset once a day on the weekend, but faces difficulties in preventing soldiers from entering the red light district as none of them are wearing uniforms.

Catch me if you can

Song Ki-seob, head of the prostitution crackdown team at Paju Police Station, said that the police found a total of 22 cases of illegal sexual services offered last year in his jurisdiction including eight cases involving Yongjugol.

He estimated that some 300 prostitutes make a living in Yongjugol, one of the largest brothel towns in Korea, down from 600 when prostitution was not prohibited.

He added that there is another area near Paju District Court, but only about six brothels operate there these days.

Choi Young-bae, a chief inspector at a substation of Paju Police Station, said that it was practically impossible for his team to crack down on brothels without the help of reinforcements and undercover agents.

“Having only three to four police officers working each shift, we are too shorthanded to crack down on prostitution,” he said. “Once pimps close the glass windows and roll down a metal shutter upon our arrival, we cannot do anything since we are not authorized to break in or destroy private property.”

After getting advice from Song and Choi’s teams, this reporter stayed parked in front of a brothel in Yongjugol from 1 a.m. through 6 a.m. Sunday.

A number of patrons, most of whom came by car, entered and left the brothel with four prostitutes and a female pimp in her 50s.

I contacted the police at 3:16 a.m. after seeing a man wearing a black jogging suit with a flat top go upstairs with one of the four ladies, but had to ask them to return to the station at 3:25 a.m.

This was because the lady who went upstairs abruptly came downstairs alone, possible by being tipped off about the imminent police crackdown.

I could not see the man wearing the sportswear come downstairs before dawn, nor any other customers entering there after the incident.

“Our chance of catching them red-handed is zero.” Choi explained.

He said all eight previous cases were possible because patrons of the brothels reported their wrongdoings to the police in the course of complaining of unsatisfactory or overpriced services.

“Quite a few people are still ignorant that prostitution is illegal and that they face punishment upon admitting that they paid for sex,” he said.

When principles are ignored

Another sergeant belonging to the 12th Regiment of the 1st Division said that senior military officers appear to be reluctant to eradicate the buying of sex among servicemen.

“Ranking officers tend to bend rules for their own sake. They ask conscripts to serve as a batman, which is prohibited, mobilize them to maintain illegally-built tennis courts and force them to deal with confidential documents without giving them a security clearance,” he said.

“The military should be all about discipline and abiding principles, but it appears that many officers ignore violations of the law and regulations, including prostitution, as long as they feel safe to do so.”

Kim Jong-soo, head of the Yongjugol brothel committee, said that the majority of pimps, landlords and prostitutes have no option but to continue their illegal activities.

“Prostitution was the main source of money coming into Paju when American troops were stationed here. The town thrived because of us,” he said. “Most of the people running brothels here are in debt and have no survival skills. All we demand is for the authorities to leave us alone until reconstruction kicks off so that we can save enough money to stand on our own feet.”

Last year, 70 percent of people in Yongjugol agreed to a reconstruction project, but many remain skeptical about the envisioned plan as neither the Paju local government nor the central government is willing to provide financial compensation for relocations.
관련 한글 기사

용주골 '성매매 메카'로 버젓이

구리 모 저축은행 대출업무를 맡은 20대 후반의 여직원은 파주 한 2층짜리 가정집 건물 대출 감정을 하러 갔다가 도저히 이해하지 못할 광경을 목격하게 되었다. 반라차림에 10cm는 될 만한 하이힐을 신은 수많은 아가씨들이 투명 유리창 안쪽에서 호객행위가 불법임에도 불구하고 버젓이 하고 있기 때문이었다.

불법으로 건물을 전용해서 매춘행위를 하고 있기에 대출 심사대상이 안 될 것 같다고 포주에게 통보하고 돌아오는 길을 잘 살펴보니 군부대가 도보거리에 있고 파출소(파주연풍방범순찰기동대)도 불법성매매 행위가 벌어지고 있는 현장에서 불과 100m 정도 밖에 안 되는 곳에 위치해 있다는 것을 알게 되었다.

나중에서야 그녀는 그곳이 “집창촌의 메카”로도 불릴 만큼 남성 사이에서는 잘 알려진 용주골이라는 것을 알게 되었다.

그녀는 “경찰이 매춘업소와 한패가 되어 성적욕구를 매춘행위로 해결하려는 전방부대 장병들에 대해 못 본채 하거나 윗선에서 모종의 압력을 받지 않은 이상 도저히 어떻게 이렇게 많은 윤락업소들이 아직도 영업을 할 수 있을까?” 의아심을 품지 않을 수 없었다.

낮에는 10개 정도의 업소만 영업을 하고 밤부터 새벽 6시까지는 60개 정도의 업소가 용주골에서 영업을 하고 있다. 한때 단속이 없을 때는 200개 업소가 영업을 했었다고 한다.

한 국방부 고위관계자는 본인이 현역으로 전방부대에 근무 할 때 부사관들이 빛에 시달려 그 이유를 파악해 보니 군부대 주변 업소가 50만원 이상 술을 먹어야 2차를 갈 수 있는 시스템이라서 울며겨자먹기로 이수지역을 사창가가 있는 지역까지 늘려야 했다고 털어 놓았다.

전방부대의 장병들이 여가 활동이나 자기개발 등으로 스트레스나 성적욕구를 해결하기에는 우리 군 현실이 벅차다는 지적이다.

용주골 주변에서 40여년간 살고있는 파주 주택 재개발 추진위 유순신 위원장은 용주골 손님 중 군인이 차지하는 비중은 그리 크지 않으며 대략 5~10% 정도를 보면 될 것이라 말했다.

하지만 일부 휴가나 외출∙외박을 나온 일부 장병들이 상당수가 용주골을 가고 있다고 말했다. 용주골에 주말에 가보니 주변의 호프집, 당구장 등에서 사복을 입은 군인들을 어렵지 않게 만날 수 있었다.

한 1사단 장병에 의하면 일단 부대로 몰래 들여온 사복을 입고 외출∙외박을 나오면 일단 헌병은 무슨 일을 하든지 통제를 하지 않는 다고 전했다.

이에 대해 1사단 헌병대장인 황태호 중령도 헌병은 엄격히 군인만을 단속하게 되어있기에 일단 사복을 입은 사람의 경우 머리가 짧고 군인처럼 보여도 헌병이 함부로 신분을 물어 보거나 단속을 할 수 없다고 밝혔다.

또한 용주골이 민간인 시설로 군 헌병에게는 단속권한이 없고 때문에 1사단 장병들이 지난 6년간 아무도 이 일대에서 성매매를 하다 적발된 경우도 없다고 말했다.

파주 경찰서 질서계 송기섭 경장에 의하면 작년 한해 총 용주골을 포함한 파주시 성매매 적발 건수는 22건 이며 그 중 8건이 용주골에서 적발 되었다. 이중 군인이 적발된 경우는 한건도 없었다.

용주골을 관할하고 있는 한 경찰관에 의하면 용주골에서 적발된 8건은 대부분은 손님이 본인이 성매매가 불법인지 몰라 업주와 가격, 서비스 등이 불만족스럽다는 이유로 경찰서에 신고했다가 입건된 경우지 실제 경찰이 적극적으로 업소를 단속해 적발한 경우는 한 건도 없다고 말했다.

하지만 용주골을 관할하고 있는 파주팔출소 최영배 2팀장은 용주골 업주와 경찰과의 유찰관계를 부인했다. 그는 파출소 근무자가 총 13명이 3교대 근무를 하기에 최대 4명이 근무를 하고 있기 때문에 지역 치안들을 돌보고 순찰을 돌다 보면 파주골을 단속할 여력인 안 된다고 말했다.

그는 또한 경찰관들이 단속을 나가면 유리창문을 닫고, 방으로 가는 길에 금속셔터를 내려버려 외부 잠복근무요원 등의 도움 없이는 제보를 받고 출동하더라도 영장 없이는 성매매 현장을 적발하는 것이 사실상 불가능 하다고 했다.

용주골 마을 주민들의 70%는 지난해 용주골 재개발 추진의사가 있음을 밝혔다. 대부분은 재개발 추진과정에서 소정의 보상이 이루어진다면 용주골을 떠날 의사가 있다는 것이다. 하지만 시청과 중앙정부는 재개발에 따른 행정적 도움은 줄 수 있으나 재개발에 따른 보상 대책을 따로 마련해 줄 수는 없다는 입장을 분명히 한 것으로 알려져 있다.

파주시 홍등가들은 미군 2사단 등이 있었던 시절부터 지역경제의 큰 축이었다. 최근에는 파주 LG 디스플레이의 6천여명의 인력이 다른 지역으로 배치하는 등 지역경기가 좋지 않아 매춘이 아직도 지역경제에 미치는 영향이 적지만은 않은 것을 알려져 있다 .

따라서 상당수의 파주 시민들은 용주골을 적절한 보상없이 밀어붙이기 식으로 철거하는 것에 반대하고 있다.

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