korea project

No More Fires in Brothels:
the Sex Trade and Neglect of Prostitutes Must Be Stopped Now

April 4, 2005


Shortly after noon on March 27, 2005, another fire in a brothel area in Seongbuk-gu, Seoul, resulted in the death of five prostitutes, with a sixth in critical condition. It was extremely shocking, as it happened after the anti-prostitution law was in operation. This law was passed to prevent that kind of tragedy following two deadly fires in Gunsan brothels in 2000 and 2002. It dampened people's hopes that the authorities would now do their best to prevent the sex trade and trafficking of women.

The investigation revealed that police in the jurisdiction were negligent in responding to the prostitutes' calls for help and had allowed the owner to continue his operation. It was an accident that could have been prevented. Five women died because the police ignored illegal activity taking place right under their noses. That is why there should be a thorough investigation to establish responsibility and hold the guilty parties accountable.

Fires in illegal brothels are catastrophic because the buildings tend to have many small rooms, with maze-like hallways, narrow steps and fire escapes blocked by boxes and other items, while the fire extinguishers are broken most of the time. However the fire department denies any responsibility, saying that it is not its job to inspect unlicensed buildings and that the poor conditions of the buildings hindered their fire fighting.

On the other hand, the Seongbuk-gu and Seoul metropolitan governments have traded charges, each maintaining that supervision of construction standards is the other's responsibility. They shamelessly refused to meet the victims’ families, even locking the doors to keep them out when they went to the city hall and Seongbuk-gu local government office to demand an explanation.

The governmental bodies are ignoring their duties by refusing to talk to the families when they have at least a moral liability for the prostitutes’ deaths. We strongly urge them to take responsibility and apologize to the families so there can be an end to the old routine that nobody gets the blame when it comes to crimes in brothels, and to see that some measures are taken to prevent yet another similar tragedy.

Since the anti-prostitution law went into effect last year (September 23, 2004), the police now have the duty to take greater action against the illegal sex trade and trafficking. The new law also requires them to help and protect the victims more actively, which Seongbuk police department failed to do. Yet they try to blame the victims, making up stories to cover their faults in vice investigations and still conduct these half-heartedly.

The police and the prosecutors' office have to find out who was bribed and who neglected their duty to enforce laws and protect women, and punish them strictly so there will be no more cases like this again.

Now is the time for all citizens to step forward to prevent our daughters and sisters from being exploited, and even losing their lives. We must continue to work to nurture the social environment where the guilty are punished and there are dependable advocacy programs for victims of sex trafficking.

We also demand, once again, establishment of a special unit in the police department to investigate sex crimes and guarantee strong and consistent enforcement of the anti-prostitution laws.

We repeatedly demand the followings:
Don't kill any more women!
Investigate the case properly and punish those responsible!
Take measures to prevent such incidents in the future!
End the sex trade and protect women's rights!

April 4, 2005
From those attending the funeral of the fire victims in the Seongbuk-gu brothel area.