The number of sex trade businesses caught by police in the past two years has nearly tripled, a report showed Friday, as authorities have led a crackdown against prostitution despite ongoing debate over whether to legalize the controversial industry.
The overall number of businesses offering sex, gambling or similar services apprehended by police dropped to 48,121 last year from 51,652 in 2013 and 55,785 in 2012, the report submitted by the National Police Agency to New Politics Alliance for Democracy Rep. You Dae-woon showed.
Of such businesses, more businesses were caught offering sex services, with the number rising to 8,952 cases last year from 4,553 in 2013 and 3,263 in 2012.
It showed that while the number of such businesses identified by the police decreased by 13.7 per cent, the number of sex trade businesses surged by nearly threefold.
Other types of obscene businesses marked a decrease, including those operating on lewd or sexual services and gambling that dropped by 44.6 per cent and 24.4 per cent, respectively.
While the overall number of obscene businesses has dropped consistently since 2012, some regions showed a surge over the two years, the report said.
They included Seoul (up 33.1 per cent), North Chungcheong Province (18.0 per cent), Jeju (8.2 per cent) and South Chungcheong Province (3.3 per cent).
By the number of sex trade instances alone, Jeju showed a tenfold increase from 10 cases in 2012 to 101 cases last year. The numbers increased in Daejeon as well from 21 to 128, and Daegu from 85 to 509.
Police said the drastic surge in sex trade operations caught in Jeju stems from the increase in foreign tourism, and the rise in new forms of prostitution, such as via a clandestine mobile sex trading system.
"Last year's number showed a surge especially because we fortified the clampdown as one of the policy goals," an official said. "This year, we are concentrating on enterprise-level sex traders and other actions that promote prostitution," the official added.
There have been rising calls for more sophisticated ways of catching sex traders as the sex industry was seen finding creative ways to avoid reinforced clampdowns.
Another police report in May showed that more than 6,600 cases of prostitution were arranged on the new platforms last year, more than triple the number of cases they caught in 2010. The latest methods of sex trade include the usage of online chat rooms, social networking sites and smartphone applications, the police said.
The debate on legalizing prostitution has heated up in South Korea as the Constitutional Court began reviewing the law that criminalizes the sex trade. The court held its first public hearing in April.
The antiprostitution law was enacted in 2004 to protect human rights, partly prompted by a fire that killed 14 sex workers who were locked in a brothel in Gunsan, North Jeolla Province, in 2002.
The law stipulates that both purchasing and selling of sex carry a penalty of up to one year in prison or a fine of up to 3 million won (S$3,600). It gives exemption to people forced into prostitution, leaving only voluntary sex workers -- many of whom oppose the law -- subject to the punishment.