So-called “kiss rooms” (키스방) are places that allow male customers to pay a fee to enter a small space and make out with a female worker. Since 2007 they have clustered in red-light districts and university areas and mainly attract customers via the internet. At the end of last year there were only about 150 such registered “kiss rooms” operating nationwide. Kiss rooms operate in a legal gap because they are not classified as being enaged in direct or analogous sexual activities. However, as competition among them intensifies some kiss rooms are engaging in analogous sexual activities or allowing off-location prostitution, and calls are increasing for a crackdown.
The Ministry of Gender and Family concluded in November 2010 that kiss room advertising is harmful for teenagers and children, and when distributed with contact information and revealing photos of women they violate the law on the protection of teenagers and children (청소년보호법). The 20th of this month [January] saw the first-ever arrest of a kiss room operator for violating this law. 37-year old Mr. Yeo and 31 others were arrested for their advertising in Ilsan, in Gyeonggi-do. They were sentenced to up to two years in prison and fines of up to ten million won. However, they were not punished for what goes on inside the kiss rooms. A member of the Ilsan Police Department said that “we were unable to prove evidence of illegall acts.” This was because they had to prove direct involvement in prostitution or similar activities.
10 am on the 24th in a kiss room located on the 3rd floor fo a buildign in Sinchon, Seoul. As soon as you open the door a man in his 40s behind the counter takes your fee. 35 minutes costs 40,000 won and one hour costs 70,000. Two men who appear to be college students come out of different rooms and appear to go outside. According to the sign under the dark lights, there are ten rooms on each side. Customers must brush their teeth in a bathroom before going into the room. The bathroom has several disposable toothbrushes. The roughly five-square meter room has a two-person sofa and a table with tissues and hand sanitizer. An employee, who said she was born in 1988, said that “I graduated from university and worked in a wedding business for a year and then came here because I wasn’t making enough money.”
The employees work in two teams, one from 2 pm to 11 pm and one from 11 pm to 6 am the next day. An average of five to ten customers come per day, and the employees keep half of the customer’s money. The employees make from two to seven million won per month. Customers range from 20 to 70 years old. The employees said that “we don’t do it, but some place do off-site prostitution.”
Besides illegal activities, kiss rooms present other problems. Byeon Hye-jeong, professor at Sogang University’s equal rights consultation center, said that “it is a problem that there is no law which can prevent teenagers from going to these businesses.” Teens studying for their university entrance exams know that they can go to kiss rooms for a sexual experience at a non-prohibitive cost. Young women work in kiss rooms because they can easily make money using their bodies.
For now kiss rooms are subject to law enforcement for their advertising, but if they change their advertising they will escape punishment, which is a problem. Recently at a red-light district in Gangnam, instead of using advertising with photos that are severely degrading to women, an increasing number are using advertising similar to that of a restaurant and thereby escaping the law. An official with the Ministry of Gender and Family said that “when kiss rooms use these kinds of different advertising, the basis for prosecution disappears.”