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SEOUL, South Korea — As about a dozen elderly men loiter in a small plaza near a cinema, mostly chatting or watching people pass by, several deeply wrinkled women stroll among them, trolling for customers willing to pay for sex in nearby motels. The nickname comes from the popular energy drink that many of the prostitutes have traditionally sold.
As a growing, ultra-competitive middle class has become preoccupied with getting ahead, many elderly and poor people have been left to fend for themselves. Widowed, divorced or abandoned by their children, some now find themselves without a social safety net and so are forced to take up prostitution.
Some get paid to drink with older men and only occasionally have sex with them. Elderly widowers and divorced men, meanwhile, seek out the women to fulfill sexual desires or fight loneliness amid lingering prejudice against second marriages and dating among senior citizens.
Now, after the police raid, there are roughly , many in their 60s and 70s, Lee said, with about 20 women regularly in the Piccadilly plaza area. Prostitution is illegal in South Korea, and traditional red-light zones have been disappearing as urban redevelopment projects encroach on old neighborhoods. Despite occasional raids, however, the sex business still thrives in the shadows. She started out selling Bacchus drinks about 20 years ago.
A couple years later, she began selling sex. She and her husband live with their son, a low-paid manual worker, and his family, relying partly on government subsidies. One of the women says she needs the money to take care of her ailing mother. Another needs cash for her disabled children. One is illiterate. Some are ethnic Koreans from China who came to Seoul trying to find a better life. According to Confucian ideals, parents are to be cherished by their children.