The Police Crackdown in Red Light Districts in South Korea and the Crime Displacement Effect After the 2004 Act on the Punishment of Intermediating in the Sex Trade

Published 15/12/2010
Type Article
Author(s) Kyungseok Choo, Kyung-Shick Choi, Yong-Eun Sung
Corresponding Authors Kyungseok Choo, Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, University Of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, Massachusetts, USA

In September of 2004, the government of South Korea enacted the ‘Act on the Punishment of Intermediating in the Sex Trade’. Included in the law are strict penalties, such as large fines and long prison sentences for both the owners of brothels and their patrons. Despite this law, many observers in Korea have suggested that the sex trade within Korea has been displaced from red light districts to more clandestine locations, including barbershops, karaoke parlours, massage parlours, and even cyberspace. They argue that the act does little more than suppress the sex trade in one place, which then causes it to resurface somewhere else. Another term for this phenomenon is crime displacement. Several scholars have contributed to the development of a displacement typology: spatial, temporal, tactical, target, and offence. Whatever the specific type, displacement is an adaptive response. Displacement is a central concern of researchers, policymakers, and others concerned with crime prevention and proactive policing. An analysis of the Korean case will provide important insights into the dynamics of crime displacement. The paper introduces the theoretical background of crime displacement and presents theories and general concepts of crime displacement. A discussion then follows regarding the analysis of official data on prostitution in the years 2000 to 2009 and a news content analysis of crime displacement based on 174 newspaper articles as well as a secondary data analysis derived from a survey of 1,078 Korean sex workers in seven cities throughout South Korea. Finally, the paper discusses the implications of theory and policy for improving our understanding of current antiprostitution policies and efforts to control prostitution.