살인죄에 상응하는 강력한 처벌이 따르면 관련 범죄건수가 줄고, 음주 운전자에게 벌금을 물리고 면허를 취소하면 도로 위의 음주 운전도 없어질 것이라는 믿음 혹은 그 목적으로 하는 것이 법이다. 마치 계속 말썽을 부리는 아이를 혼내면 철들 것이라는 것처럼.
성매매방지특별법도 그랬다. 하지만, 지난 2004년 9월 제정된 성매매 방지 특별법은 현재 헌법재판소 위헌법률심판대에 올랐다. 성매매 목적의 인신매매를 근절하고 성매매 피해자의 인권을 보호하고자 만들어진 법이 오히려 변종 성매매 등의 독버섯을 키우고 있다는 지적이 잇따른 것이다.
성매매에서 과연 누가 나쁜 사람인지, 과연 처벌을 하면 성매매 관련한 범죄가 줄어드는 것인지, 권선징악의 논리가 모호한 상황에서 11년이 흘러버렸다.
지난 11월 말 취재진을 만난 여성 상대 유사성매매 업소를 운영하는 A(34) 씨는 성매매방지특별법의 법 제정 취지가 무색해지고 있음을 증명하는 장본인이었다.
A씨는 1990년대에 본인이 직접 성종사자로 시작해 지금은 여성을 상대로 마사지 또는 그 이상을 제공하는 사업을 하고 있다.
A씨는 자신이 운영하는 S 업체가 국내 최대 여성 상대 업소라고 말했다. 인터뷰 도중 2,500명의 고객 연락처가 담긴 4대의 휴대전화에서 울리는 문자 벨 소리는 사업의 수요와 인기를 실감케 했다.
주 고객층에 대해 묻자 그는 “싱글, 유부녀, 과부, 이혼녀 등 다양하다”며 주로 호텔이나 고객의 집에서 ‘마사지’ 프로그램을 받거나 같이 데이트 혹은 여행을 하며 시간을 보내는 식으로 진행된다고 했다.
A씨의 직원은 25~29세의 모델 혹은 헬스트레이너 출신의 ‘트레이너’라고 불리는 신입 스텝과 32~35세의 ‘실력을 인정받은’ 테라피스트로 나뉘어졌다.
경험이 더 많은 직원을 선택하고 같이 보내는 시간과 프로그램을 늘릴수록 고객이 지불해야하는 비용은 더 늘어나는 것이다.
“결국, 여자들은 호기심 때문에 부르는 거예요. 남자와 여자의 호기심은 달라요. 남자는 바로 질러버리지만, 여자의 호기심은 가슴 한구석에 쌓아두다가 언젠간 터지는 거거든. 근데 왜 여자들이 원나잇을 안하고 이 서비스를 이용할까요? 원나잇을 한다는 거는 새로운 환경에 엮인다는 거거든. 하지만, 이건 돈을 내는 거니까 서비스인 거예요.”
그는 또 단속을 피해 음성적으로 변해가는 업소들로 인해 여성들이 범죄의 피해자가 될 수도 있다고 말했다.
A씨는 소속된 직원들이 일주일에 한 번씩 병원에 가서 성병 검사를 받고 있다고 강조하면서 1인 업체나 허술한 곳은 성병 전염 문제는 물론 여성이 변심해 서비스를 받지 않기로 했는데 남성 직원이 본인의 욕구를 풀기 위해 통제를 못 하고 성폭행으로 이어지는 범죄들도 만연하다는 설명을 했다.
그는 성매매방지특별법이 현실과는 동떨어져 있는 법이라고 지적했다.
“정부는 여자가 성 판매자고 남자가 성 구매자라는 생각을 하고 접근을 하잖아요. 근데 성 구매자들의 절반 정도가 여자라고.”
그는 특별법이 현실을 반영하지 못하는 가장 큰 이유로는, 성매매업계에서는 이미 보편화가 된 다양한 성매매유형을 모두 잡아내기에는 역부족이라고 말했다.
A씨에 따르면, 현재 성매매유형은 두 사람이 성관계를 하는 것을 지켜보는 ‘관전’부터 동성 성매매까지 일반인들은 상상하기 어려운 다양한 형태로 일반 상가, 오피스텔 혹은 주택에서 성행하고 있다고 했다.
그는 직접 스마트폰을 키고 관련 검색어들을 넣어 일반 포털사이트에서 이런 업소를 찾는 게 어려운 일이 아님을 보여줬다.
A씨가 설명한 업계 현황은 성매매방지특별법이 성산업을 억제하는 데 제대로 힘을 발휘하지 못하고 있다는 것을 잘 보여주는 사례들이었다.
취재진은 영등포 집창촌에서 청춘을 보냈다는 B씨에게서도 같은 말을 들을 수 있었다.
B씨는 “과연 누구를 위한 법이냐”고 되물으며 “성매매 여성들을 보호하겠다는 취지도 어긋났고, 재활 프로그램도 현실을 반영하지 못했는데 되려 원정 성매매, 오피스텔 등 다양한 업종이 성행하고 있다”고 말했다.
또 음성적인 변종 성매매 업소들 단속이 어려운 탓에 집창촌 단속이 심해지자 집창촌 여성들은 생계를 이어가기 어려운 상황이라고 설명했다.
“그러니까 자꾸 애들이 원정 성매매 가고 그러는 거에요. 그럼 더 위험해지는 거야. 가기 전에 포주한테 빚지고 들어가고 들어가서도 빚이고. 백이면 백 다 빚져서 온다고.”
한편, 특별법이 성산업을 억제하기보다는 성 노동자를 범죄의 표적으로 만든다는 주장도 있었다.
취재진이 만난 트랜스젠더 성노동자 ‘루시엔’씨는 “범죄와 인신매매를 줄이기 위해서라도 비범죄화가 되어야 하는 것이 우선이다”라고 주장했다.
그녀는 “성 노동자도 노동자다. 노동자라는 것은 기본 노동권을 보장받아야 하고 범죄로부터 안전해야 할 권리가 있어야 하는 것인데 한국은 그렇지 못하다”고 설명했다.
실제로 지난 8월 국제앰네스티는 아일랜드에서 대의원총회를 열고 성매매 관련자를 처벌 대상에서 전면 제외한다는 결정(비범죄화)을 통과시켰다.
“일부 성 노동자는 오직 생존 수단으로 성 노동에 종사한다”며 인권 보호를 위해 이들을 범죄자로 보지 않겠다는 것이지만, 이는 성 매수자와 알선업주(포주)까지도 처벌하지 않겠다는 결정이어서 국내·외에서 큰 논란이 일었다.
당시 한국여성단체연합·성매매문제해결을위한전국연대 등 여성 단체는 “‘성매매 비범죄화’가 여성들의 인권향상에 이바지한다는 앰네스티의 주장은 어디서도 입증되지 않았다, 오히려 여성들의 상황을 더욱 열악하게 만들 뿐”이라며 “불평등과 불의에 기반을 두고 이득을 취하는 이들이 더욱 활개치게 할 것”이라고 지적했다.
<관련 영문 기사>Sex trade exploits legal loopholes
Sex industry targeting married couples, women and LGBT individuals thriving in Korea
It’s been some 10 years since South Korea enacted its antiprostitution law, but new forms of sex trade have continued to evolve through legal loopholes, including sex services for women and overseas prostitution. With the law vocally opposed by an increasing number of sex workers, its efficacy has constantly been questioned. The Korea Herald is publishing a three-part series shedding light on the hidden side of Korea’s sex industry. The following is the second installment. – Ed.
When Lucien Lee, a South Korean transgender woman, met her blind date back in 2012, she didn’t think it would turn into her first sex work opportunity. Her date was a man in his 30s who misunderstood their gathering as being for a mutually agreed-upon sex transaction.
“He said ‘I thought we’d be going to a motel,’” the 24-year-old told The Korea Herald. “So I asked him how much he was thinking of paying me. He said 100,000 won ($85). I thought it wasn’t a bad deal. I went ahead and did it.”
Lee is currently a university student majoring in law and working part-time as a self-employed sex worker while living with her parents. She is also one of many Korean sex workers who are vocally against the nation’s antiprostitution law, which criminalizes both the selling and buying of sex.
As a transgender woman who is also a lesbian, Lee said the current law is based on a stereotypical notion that most sex buyers are men while sex workers are women, which does not reflect and grasp the reality of today’s sex industry in Korea where services for women and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community also exist and are thriving. She also added that the law fails to protect sex worker’s rights, especially when they are abused or exploited by their customers or employers.
Lee, who is still legally classified as male, identifies herself as a transgender woman and a lesbian, and most of her clients are male. Some included married couples who wanted to have a threesome. “It makes the work easier for me,” Lee said. “(Having male clients while being a lesbian) eradicates the possibility that I may develop personal feelings for my clients. I would not want that.”
In 2013, Lee couldn’t report to the police when she was sexually abused by a male teenager, who threatened to report her to authorities if she did not have sex with him for free. Since receiving hormone replacement therapy in 2012, she has been struggling to find other part-time jobs to support herself as a student. “As long as sex trade is illegal, sex workers cannot rely on government protection,” she said. “How can you report the abuser to the police if doing so can risk your own career and source of income?”
Invisible workers and clients
Park Sung-jun (not his real name), 43, has been working as a male sex worker since the 1990s. He now runs his own sex business targeting female clients only, which he claims is one of the biggest in the country.
Park’s business mainly offers massage service for women, but often includes sexual intercourse. Reservations are done via KakaoTalk -- he has more than 2,500 client phone numbers saved on four mobile phones -- and the client and her male “therapist” meet at a motel room. Sometimes, clients ask to spend all day with a specific therapist. The “therapist” can get paid for watching a movie with the client or going on a day-trip away from Seoul -- sex is just optional. Clients are from all age groups and types -- married, single, widowed and divorced.
“I think women clients feel more comfortable when they pay for sex than having a one-night stand,” Park told The Korea Herald. He said women can be just as sexually curious and adventurous as men.
“Many would go, ‘Oh my god, I must be crazy. What am I doing?’ after having sex with a stranger. But there’s something about paying money for sex. It’s just a service you paid for. You don’t’ feel as bad about yourself. And once you become close with the therapist, you want to pay for the emotional intimacy.”
Like Lee, Park said the current antiprostitution law fails to grasp the reality of the industry by assuming that all buyers are men and workers are women. He claimed that a significant number of clients in the industry -- about 50 percent -- are couples asking for a threesome. Sometimes the men only choose to watch while his partner has sex with the sex worker.
During the interview, he showed a text message inquiring about threesome services. “I want to give something special to my wife on our wedding anniversary,” it said.
Park explained there is also an industry that only targets lesbians and gays that is booming behind closed doors. Once, Park had a lesbian client who wanted to try having sex with a man only to confirm her sexual orientation.
In person, Park showed how easy it is to find such services online through local search engines by using simple search terms such as “massage for women” and “women only,” which are in fact secret words for sex services for women by female workers.
“Most people don’t know these sites are for sex services because ‘massage for women’ doesn’t sound like anything sex-related,” he said. “If the government is really determined to end sex trade in the country, I think the only way to do it is to ban the Internet. But of course, that’s impossible.”
Park said male sex workers working for male clients are practically invisible to the authorities, who “simply don’t guess” that men can be involved in sex work targeting gay men or women. “That’s why male sex workers targeting gay men work at off-line brothels -- whereas every other service involving women workers or clients is arranged online and takes place in motels -- because they don’t have to worry about crackdowns,” Park said. “The authorities don’t think there is any sex trade going on when there is no woman in the building.”
When approached by The Korea Herald, the Gender Equality Ministry seemed to be unware of the existence of the nation’s sex industry targeting the LGBT community.
Lee Jung-ki, a senior inspector at the ministry’s Women’s & Youth’ Rights Promotion Bureau said it’s “hard to imagine” that sex workers targeting gay men exist. “I can imagine gay men dating,” he said. “But it’s hard to imagine that such an industry targeting gay men exists.”
Sex work as labor
Prior to receiving her hormone replacement therapy, Lucien Lee had worked part-time for a parcel delivery company. As a dock loader, she would take a bus at 6 p.m. to Daejeon, where the distribution center was located, and load thousands of parcels to trucks for delivery. Food was provided by the company, but Lee doesn’t remember having any good meals there. “The bean sprout soup had no bean sprouts in it. It was just water,” she said.
The work was hard. She could barely find a moment to sit and rest at work, which usually lasted until 8 a.m. the next day. For about nine hours of labor, she was paid 80,000 won. For her first sex work, which took just a few hours, she was paid 100,000 won. As of this year, Korea’s minimum wage stands at 5,580 won an hour.
After receiving hormone replacement therapy, getting a part-time job has become even more difficult for Lee due to her sexual identity. She appears to be and identifies herself as a woman, but she’s still a male according to her legal documents including her ID. Legally changing one’s gender in South Korea can be costly and tedious, as it requires medical operations that are not covered by the national health insurance. Lee hasn’t filed her request to the court yet.
According to a 2006 report on human rights conditions on South Korean transgenders, written by local nongovernmental organizations, the vast majority of MTF (male to female) Korean transgender people work in the “entertainment industry” or as temporary or part-time workers.
“I think working in the ‘entertainment industry’ practically means working as sex workers,” said Lee. “Even if you work at bars, if you don’t go to the ‘second rounds,’ which means sex service, the chances are you won’t even get paid the minimum wage.”
Professor Kim Yong-hwa at Sookmyung Women’s University, who claims the law should be revised so that sex workers should not be punished while sex trade should still be banned, said prostitution ruins a woman’s dignity and sense of morality. In her report submitted to the Women’s Human Rights Commission of Korea, she defined South Korea’s sex industry as a “market serving men.”
“The reason prostitution (of women) continues to exist is because the demand from men never goes away,” she wrote in her report. “But prostitution violates women’s human rights and diminishes a society’s moral character.”
The Korean government stands firm on its stance that the commercial sex trade cannot be legal. Gender Equality Minister Kim Hee-jung said earlier this year sex was “something that cannot be sold and bought.”
Lee said sex work deserve to be recognized as labor. “I think many (Korean) women politicians who claim themselves as feminists grew up in a life of privilege,” she said, adding that sex trade should be legalized with due government regulations.
“I don’t know what ruins one’s dignity more -- sex work or living without a job or not being paid minimum wage while being a contract worker. Some say all sex workers are forced to work as sex workers. But when you think about it, who isn’t forced to work? Most people work not because they enjoy it, but because it pays and they need to survive. This applies to every job, not just sex work.”
According to Park, being a male sex worker isn’t easy. It often requires smashing Viagra pills into powder and mixing it with sports drinks. The drink the concoction before work to make sure they can satisfy the clients.
“It’s tough work,” he said. “It’s about being professional -- treating clients with the utmost care and making sure they get what they want from you.”
While his business is also illegal according to the current law, Park claimed that by not recognizing women as sex trade clients, the authorities are failing to see potentially more serious crime cases in the industry.
“I make sure my workers get tested for STDs every week,” he said.
“Once one of them tested positive, I made sure I informed every single client who received services from him. I think that’s the ethical way of doing business. But I’m not sure if other people involved in this business do what I do.”
Aside from sexually transmitted diseases, he has also heard of male sex workers taking video footage of the clients’ bodies while giving a back massage. He’s even heard of a case where a sex worker used his client’s personal information for blackmail to get more money.
Park also heard a number of cases where the “therapist” end up raping the client by not controlling his own sex drive, when the client actually only wanted a massage.
“The world has changed so much,” he said. “I don’t know why so many government policies are all still so male-oriented.”
By Claire Lee and Suk Gee-hyun