By Park Chung-a Korea Times
The number of Korean women engaged in prostitution overseas _ both voluntary or forced _ has been steadily increasing after the government's crackdown on the domestic sex industry in 2004.
According to the U.S. State Department on Monday, based on the law for protecting victims of slave trading, the country provided shelter to 230 foreign victims in 2005 and Koreans accounted for the largest portion at 23.5 percent.
Korea was followed by Thailand, Peru and Mexico in terms of the number of the victims who were offered shelter. It also said that a sudden increase in Koreans seems to be related to the 2004 crackdown.
Although victims of labor exploitation are included in the victims of slave trade, most of the Korean victims were involved in the sex trade, according to the officials.
Yoon Won-ho, a lawmaker of the ruling Uri Party who has been leading an investigation into the Korean sex trade in the United States, said it was highly likely the illegal activity was enjoying a rebound in Korean communities abroad through underground means, such as massage parlors, bars, private homes and the Internet.
``I have been shocked by the fact that there are an increasing number of young Korean women in their 20s and 30s going to the United States to earn money through prostitution after the anti-prostitution law went into effect,'' said Yoon. ``Unfortunately, we do not yet have specific statistics, which show how closely the crackdown on prostitution is related to the increase of the Korean sex trade abroad. I will try to enact a law which strictly punishes those who recruit Korean women through the Internet for prostitution abroad, or coerce them to perform work for their personal gain.''
Yoon's seven-member investigation team has been discussing the issue with Korean residents in the U.S. as well as officials from human rights organizations there.
Skeptics have argued that the strengthened crackdown on prostitution opened the doors to other venues for the sex industry, which law enforcement authorities find it harder to deal.
Meanwhile, ``Hanyoyon,'' an association of female sex laborers from 10 red-light districts dotted with brothels including Chongnyangni, Chonho-dong and Miari yesterday held a press conference in central Seoul to urge the government to abolish the anti-prostitution law and Seoul's urban redevelopment project which entails pulling down brothels.
``The government should abolish the anti-prostitution law and should listen to the voices of sex laborers. The city's redevelopment project chases sex laborers away to the streets, making our lives more miserable. Brothels are our precious workplace through which we can make our future better,'' the workers said with sunglasses on. ``The government should show how much of its budget was specifically spent for rehabilitation and welfare of women in the sex industry after the anti-prostitution law went into effect.''
The organization also pointed out that there is a lack of disease control for sex laborers who have come back to the country after being expelled from foreign countries for prostitution.