‘This Isn’t Happening’. Prostitution in Korea. Does it actually exist?

A young Korean friend asked for a little help with a short essay he had written for his university English class. We chatted over a beer in the pub, went over a couple of minor grammatical stumbles, tidied up the punctuation and a few spelling mistakes. I told him his one-page paper, whilst a bit repetitive, was fine. Then I asked if he wanted to talk about the actual topic of his essay. He seemed not to understand the question – what did the content have to do with anything? His topic was prostitution in South Korea and to summarise, it went like this…

I am glad that prostitution is illegal in Korea. On my trip to Europe last year I visited Amsterdam and I was shocked to learn that prostitution is legal there. I am glad I am Korean. Prostitution is degrading to woman and prostitution exploits women. If prostitution is legal then that means those people think it is ok to exploit women. I am happy that prostitution is illegal in Korea.

I had to ask my young friend what he thought of Korea’s massive sex industry (which 10 years ago was estimated to generate over four percent of the nation’s GDP – more than Korea’s agriculture and fisheries industries combined). Who, if anyone, was enforcing these laws my young friend was so in favour of, considering the staggering statistics frequently reported in the press on what (on numbers alone) appears to be a little-spoken national pastime.

“What about the coffee girls”, I asked.These miniskirt-clad, scooter-riding young women deliver hot flasks of coffee to businessmen all over the country. The girl sits and chats with the businessman while he enjoys his coffee. Everything else costs extra of course. This is illegal of course, but a convenience considered by many to be an important, if not necessary service, providing executive stress relief to very important men who are so busy working they don’t even have time to leave the office for sex. This is all perfectly acceptable behaviour of course, because after all it is ostensibly all about the coffee (I have a theory that all these business guys having all this relaxing, stress-reliving sex during the workday probably only became stressed and jittery in the first place because of all that coffee).

“What about the barbershops?” I went on.

Like the coffee girls, the barbershops are found nationwide and advertise their services by means of two spinning red and white ‘barbers’ poles’, which usually lead customers into the basements of buildings, where men are generally served by ajummas (some of the more seasoned industry workers, let’s say). Everybody knows somebody or has heard a story about some guy who inadvertently entered one of these establishments with a mind toward getting an actual haircut.

You probably won’t get a haircut here.

I quizzed him about the ‘Hooker Cards’ that litter the streets near numerous red-light districts and universities. There’s no way you can collect the whole set of these particular shiny business cards featuring a picture of a barely clothed young Korean woman and a mobile phone number. There are just too many of them. Prostitution is illegal, but it’s fine to advertise your illegal service (and phone number) all over the city.

Hooker cards! Collect the whole set – there’s thousands of them!

“What’s with all the ‘juicy-bars’?”

Frequented largely by American military personnel, these bars are full of attractive young women who will approach you for a friendly chat, then ask you to buy them a drink. They’re known as ‘juicy bars’, because the ‘drink’ you buy the nice lady will cost you twenty dollars, and will have very little or no alcohol at all (so the bargirls don’t get too drunk while they’re working). In these bars you can strike a deal with the management and/or the lady, and move on from there. These are of course illegal. There are thousands of them.

“What about the ‘Love Hotels’ everywhere?”

These are basically like any other inexpensive motel, often with a computer and wide-screen TV in each room, though they can be rented by the night or by the hour. My wife and I have stayed in a few love motels around the country and it is at one of these we encountered our first dildo vending machine.

Then there are the room salons, noraebangs (private singing rooms), DVD bangs (private rooms where teenagers can also watch a DVD). Why some of these rooms also have private showers is a complete mystery… because prostitution is illegal.

Red light district, Seoul                                           Photo: Mathew Campagna





Of course, you can also just stroll down various streets and choose a woman from a glass box with red neon lights exactly the same as the lights at my local butcher.

The Ministry for Gender Equality estimated that around half a million women were working in the South Korean sex industry, though some within the industry have estimated this number to be 1.2 million.

Most recent reports suggest the number of sex workers has fallen steadily since new anti-sex trafficking laws were introduced in 2007, though it remains a massive business, and other countries in the region have noted increasing numbers of Koreans women moving overseas to work in less restrictive countries, such as Australia. The great number of sex workers remaining in Korea are increasingly using internet chaatrooms and other non-traditional methods to procure clients and keep working.

I was just getting warmed, and temporarily forgot I had strayed somewhat from my friend’s original request for grammatical assistance with a 100-word English-language freshmen university homework assignment.

Getting toward full rant mode I challenged him on the safety of Korean sex workers, now that the increasing enforcement of the existing laws was forcing their industry further underground, where the women may arguably be more vulnerable to extortion, violence and disease.

Sex workers in Seoul protest anti-prostitution laws.

Why was it exactly, that the industry workers themselves have on a number of occasions held high-profile mass protest rallies to protect their brothels and jobs, some going as far as to douse themselves in fuel and threaten self-immolation in order to ‘die with glory’ rather than lose their livelihoods.

These protesting sex workers in Seoul threaten to set themselves alight to “die with glory” rather than lose their brothels and jobs.

Where, I demanded, would a working girl (having committed a crime) go for help if she was beaten or raped?

Why exactly are Korean men reported to be the biggest (per capita) sex tourists in South-east Asian countries, such as Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam… Meanwhile back at home, upper estimates from within the industry suggest that around 20% (one in 5?!) women between 15 and 29 have worked in the industry.

My friend stopped me. I had become so involved in my impromptu rant that I’d completely failed to notice the peaceful, slightly glazed expression he was now wearing. I’d seen this face before. Koreans, as far as I know, are the champions of the galaxy at a game called ‘This Isn’t Happening’. It can be quite disarming to the uninitiated, and a game of ‘This Isn’t Happening’ can break out at any time, in any context. The conversation was over. Actually, I’m not confident it ever began.

“You don’t understand,” he said calmly, resting his hand gently on my shoulder.

“Prostitution is illegal here”.


*Photography by Mathew Campagna at campagnapictures.com



  1. Wait, I was told that there is no prostitution, drug use, or homosexuality in Korea. Do you mean to say that these things aren’t necessarily true?

    • Well Tim, I do occasionally take some small amount of artistic license (damn, you got me).

      To answer your question… aside from (but not exclusively) Itaewon, Hongdae, Jongno, other areas in Seoul, various parts of Busan, Daegu, other cities, anywhere near an American military base, Dokdo, and a gay German beer hall I wandered into in Gyeongju once… what you were told is indeed correct.

      • the korean sex industry is one of the biggest of asia besides japan of course, drugs are found in korea if you have the contacts but it can be very expensive, in some sectors of seoul there are transvesti, for example the other half of the hooker hill in itaewon. Or there are a lot of anma massages some foreign friendly in gangam office station

  2. Don’t call them PROSTITUTES. They are Comfort Women and shift the blame to the Japanese. Do some face lift of the reality to make Koreans look most morally upright people on earth.

    • the korean guy in this story is an idiot. and i am sure there are many more out there who are just like him. many many more. but there are also many others who know better. like the very researchers and scholars, many of whom are likely korean because much of the work was done by korean universities or the government, who study this stuff and put out the very numbers the author uses in this piece. but korean people tend to be like people from most east asian countries whose cultures have yet to figure out how to deal with shame and therefore how to use it to rebuild, reconcile, mature, and move on. It’s sad that it seems the nation as a whole, or even east asia as a whole, chooses to live in such denial.

      As far as the comment I am replying to by mr. morrison…. I think it is important not to confuse prostitution since the Korean War with the practice of comfort women. this japanese crime against humanity was real. the kidnappings and rapes were real. as real as the current forms of prostitution the author mentions. the comment mr morrison makes, even if in jest, fans the fire of the deniers, those patriotic japanese individuals who wish to dissociate their national history from this practice. what’s worse, some of these deniers want others to believe that the women wanted it. the general idea i got from this piece was that people who deny the facts, deny the plain as a day truth are idiots. If you are in agreement with the spirit of this post, don’t make comments like the one you’ve made because when you confuse today’s prostitution in korea with comfort women you give the deniers, of which there is more than one kind, all the more reason to keep on denying.

      yeah yeah it’s a free country and you can say what you want blah blah. but the beauty of freedom lies in our intelligent use of it. yes, i am implying what you think i am implying. look, prostitution is real and painful and a serious problem. furthermore, the whole thing would go away if the customers went away.

    • Do you realize these so-called “Comfort Women” were women who were enslaved, raped, beaten, murdered? How you can bring up this issue when the article discusses another is just beyond me. Please, go learn more about Japanese military sexual slavery–because that’s what it was, NOT prostitution–so you’d understand how hurtful your words are.

        • No, they’re not. To bring comfort women into this is completely wrong and uncalled for. It says a lot about you that you don’t see anything wrong with it, to be honest.

      • South Korea was and still is a big prostitution exporting country. During WWII Korean traders recruited Korean women for prostitution and did business with Japanese soldiers, and after the war they conveniently forgot everything and started calling them ‘sex slaves’ and demand the Japanese govt. compensate for their ‘slavery’. There’s nothing to prove it other than what they say. Oh, another thing, Koreans traders sold their women to the US troops during the Korean War (the brothels were run by the the Korean govt. but it’s still kept secret in S. Korea) and Vietnam War but of course they forgot about them, too. And of course they’re still selling tons of Korean women all over the world. Call them ‘Comfort Women.’ God bless them.

    • Don’t call your comment a comment. Call it a nonparallel mangling of logic to vent your little man frustrations at not getting the love from Korean society to which you feel your white skin entitles you.

  3. I have been to korea many times and the Korean girls wont have sex with most foreigners as they have been Programmed to believe AIDS and all sexual deseases come from Foreigners but not from Korean men take note that there is so many love(sex)hotels all over korea and 90% of Korean men have prostitutes but they want to belive that’s not true Korean men for Korean woman
    foreigners not welcome sexist and Racist country I been here for 4 years now
    u have to go to foreigner friendly places to have sex with chineese or Russian or philippeno gals FACT is most Korean men are the sexual deseases as they REFUSE to wear condoms
    racist country be aware

    • Racism takes form in many different ugly shapes, some more subtle, some more flagrant. What you have experiences is the most obvious and blatant form of racism. However, make no mistakes about it. Korea IS racist. But it goes without saying that every nation in this pitiful world is also, unabashedly racist. Just in ways that an ignorant couldn’t identify.

    • You’re calling Korea racist because prostitutes don’t want to have sex with you? You know how stupid and creepy that sounds? If a girl won’t have sex with me for money, I would take a good look at myself in the mirror, not cry ‘racism.’

    • Dear British guy… while I can sympathize a bit with your frustrations in Korea… if you dislike it as much as you seem to for being sexist and racist, no one is making you stay.

  4. Korea is the economic giant today that exports from automobile, home electronics, ships, steels, nuclear plants, but why Korea also exports millions of prostitutes over the world?? It is no doubt that Koreans made money during WW2 when they were much poor – not the sex slaves, that’s their business.
    It’s Korea main industry. They are prostitutes by nature. GO HOME YOUR OWN COUNTRY!

    • Ignorant. Study history first.
      I do not make a logical comment to an idiot because he/she will not understand or will not event try to understand it anyway. Pitiful…

  5. The biggest problem is the wage gap between Korean women and men and the difficulty Korean women have with finding gainful employment… workplace discrimination is the biggest problem… and then divorce settlements… men need to be required to pay for child support after divorce… and then maternity leave, where women do not have to worry about losing their jobs after giving birth.

    • No they don’t. Ugly fact; most divorces are initiated by women, not men, and in countries with gauruteed alimony and child support, divorce rates are off the charts. And no these divorces are not intitiated because of adultry or abuse. Most are “no fault” or more commonly known as “I or We don’t love each other anymore” syndrome.

      If you lived in Korea you’d also know that the reason for the rampant prostitution is because once married most korean wives (and men) refuse to have sex with each other. Therefore the sex trade is providing an outlet of sexual release.

      We in the west need to stop applying our value and beliefs to other cultures that are much older than ours and have been doing what they do for 100s to thousands of years.

      Prostitution is going no where – Worlds oldest profession. Truth be told, sexual relationship between male and female is just a higher form of such. Stop being naive.

  6. The ones in the red costumes look pretty hot. Who cares about the politics? people need to calm down and accept less – less sex, money whatever.

  7. Korean prostitutes went crazy in Seul when a new regulation was introduced. Korea exports everything around the globe from high-tech products to prostitutes. Selling sex overseas are only for women who are from poor developing countries
    Korean women seem to be prostitutes by nature.

    • Surely it depends on a person…but not a long time ago I was reading Korean article which says that many young Korean females provide some sort of sex services to be able to buy a new designer bag or save up money for a trip abroad. Those girls are not really struggling for live, they have homes, they study at the Universities so for them its an easy way to make some extra cash for “small luxuries”. Actually there are thousands other ways how to do it without sex being involved but still its a very common practice in Korea. Its just a different mentality!!!

  8. Very good read. Prostiution exists almost everywhere, but koreans are being ignorant about it, which is the main problem.

    Thank you for this article.

  9. First i should say your friend is an idiot conservative again idiot just as many hundred of thousands of korean people. And I AM KOREAN.
    I was aware about this situation but i didnt know there were that many ..”sex-but-no-sex shops”. Im shocked and so embarrassed…
    More embarassed for what your friend said. That he was proud of being korean because prostitution is ilegal in korea and shocked for what he saw in i dont know which country he has been to. And the “you have to understand them because is ilegal” part.

    Thats what i hate the most about koreans. Such a selfish thought so much arrogancy… That what we do is always okay and understandable but what others do is always wrong.
    Such a shame. Because we know things happen but we pretend it is not happening we omit it we look sonewhere else.
    But everybody knows that you dont get to erase the sun just because you closed the windows and no sunlight is coming in.

    Id prefer an honest society rather than this mask everybody is wearing all the time.
    It happens of course in every other aspects not only in prostitution theme.

    Id rather prefer girls “working” in the streets than those room salons where they pretend to be or not to be what they actually are.

    Honesty is what korea needs.
    so… Ashamed….

    • I agree that what societies need is more honesty when it comes to sex work and I am personally not opposed to street-based sex work per se, but in Korea, where sex workers are persecuted by the police, indoor sex work sure is safer than street-based sex work. But if your point was that Korean society should accept sex workers, I’m very much on board.

      • I want korean people to admit that this things are ocurrig now. That this is the real stuff even they want to ignore it. So they can do something about it.
        Im not say they should accept sex workers nor make it legal. Sex is no job. Thats riddiculous. And thise KISSING BANG have you heard of them? They really dont know what to do
        Oh im so pissed

  10. Another foreigner rant of the obvious void of any useful content. Yes we all know this stuff exists. How did you say this get fixed? Oh yeah it was silence…

  11. I am Korean. I don’t understand the article. Are Koreans really ignorant about the sex work going on in the country? As far as I know, Koreans DO know all these things happening. So, when I read the article, it seems like the article is trying to introduce some facts about Korea to foreigners rather than convince Koreans about their country because all facts you listed are things I already recognized about and things I often see from Korean media. Koreans know more than you as people actually live in the country. They don’t deny sex working and Koreans also think hard to solve the problem. The thing is that they barely speak out loudly to address the issue; meaning they may not be willing to be leaders in addressing the issue.

  12. I thoroughly enjoyed this read! You kept it easy, swift and light, despite the potentially sensitive nature of the topic. You had me laughing with Champions of the Galaxy! I’ve been on the losing end of that game a few times, very disarming indeed if you don’t know what’s happening!

  13. This article fails to notice two things :

    First, It’s natural to become defensive when talking about one’s country. Prostitution is an open secret in Korea, and I doubt that kid didn’t know about it, either, hell, I had to walk straight through a red-light district on my way to school. That doesn’t mean we’d like to admit it to foreigners.

    Second, this seems to be written under the assumption that all Koreans are bushy-tailed college boys. Hell no. There are more Koreans than there are Canadians. That’s like a Korean living in New York complaining that all Americans are either hipsters, bums or elitists. This seems to be a common mistake, even among veteran expats.

  14. I mean, if you confront a college freshman in American about the current depression (face it, it’s a depression : see, even YOU just tried to deny it), what is he going to say?

    • ?
      Sorry, I’m not an American… but still…
      I didn’t confront him about anything. This is just an anecdote about a conversation that happened at Phillies one day.

      • He means a 19 year old college boy does not represent the mentality of every single Korean in Korea. He’s one person. Does one random black guy in Cincinnati speak for all black men in America?

  15. Some of what is stated about the sex industry here is (or was) true, but the article is stupidly outdated and makes incorrect statements. It’s simply yet another “hey, come read my blog because I’ve posted an article and pics about hookers” piece. It looks like something written by someone who has been here a decade, but not learned enough about Korea to hear/see the changes taking place — or is simply regurgitating (stealing) the same OLD boring expat stories without bothering to investigate the truth.

    First stupid generalization: the “hooker cards” are almost all photos of Japanese women, NOT Korean women. Take a moment to look at them anytime you see them, and you’ll notice that *laugh*.

    Then the guy is quoting figures from 2007 (or pre-2007… that’s almost a decade, folks) and claiming a “steady decline” with no figures to back up how much of a decline has taken place. Also, little or no information about how everything has moved to an “online” industry? The lack of information here outs the author as a hack who knows little about the situation, and probably little Korean, as well.

    Of course, the author has to get his dig in on the US service members who frequent Itaewon’s hooker hill…. but wait… has the author even BEEN to that area in the past, oh… 8 years? That area is all but a ghost town — much of it BURNED down! The US Army barely goes there! The wild 10+ years ago days of dozens of GI’s entering and exiting hooker bars in Korea is waaay outdated, and if the author did more than just regurgitate the same old news he read on other blogs, he’d know that.

    The truth is that Korea has removed or forced out much of the blatant prostitution. The Yongsan prostitution area: Gone… totally torn down to make way for apartments. Same with part of the area near my school (Gireum station)… gutted with just a few hold-outs (that’s what the articles said 3 years ago, anyway) making way for apartments. The Jangandong area (where I used to live) has been decimated. We didn’t see a lot of that there anymore when we lived there 3 years ago. Sure, a few nightclubs and room salons are there, but the author must have missed the Korean news stories (and photos) of dozens of soapy bar bathtubs littering the police station parking lot after they’d been ripped-out 5 years ago.

    I wish I could find the proper waygookin article that covered all of this in detail, because it was very informative. Especially funny (and if you are one of the guys who accidentally walks into a shady 2-pole barbershop, you’ll notice…) is the fact that the women working in these places are like 60’s and older! YUCK! Then… coffee girls? Is he serious? I can’t speak for small towns, but I haven’t seen a coffee girl riding a scooter in Seoul for at least 7 years, and the last one I saw got hit by a bus.

    So, to recap… YES, prostitution is still big in Korea, BUT it is nowhere near as open as it used to be… it has all gone online, and there have been years of Korean articles all about it. The Korean gov’t HAS worked pretty hard at stamping-out a fair amount of the openly blatant places (and there is a lot more to do) but don’t expect it all to go away.

    The main criticism should be focused toward the fact that the places where prostitution has been attacked the most were in relation to attempts to raise real estate prices in the area. I don’t have a problem with writing an article about the amount of prostitution that goes on around here, but I do get sick of the “come read my blog because I wrote something about hookers in Korea and added some pics” aspect of it, when the guy has not bothered to do any actual research.

    • Agreed. What annoyed me was that peninsularity combined the lack of research with the whole “I-know-more-about-your-society-than-you-do” shtick that’s so common in these expat blogs (and has been a staple of western writers since colonial times). Hell, I bet no one in Korea over the age of 16 is ignorant of what these “barbershops”, “DVD bangs (which are more for couples than prostitutes)”, and “room salons” actually are.
      I do agree that prostitution is a huge problem in Korea — it speaks to the patriarchal institutions of the country, the vulnerability of women, and the hypocrisy of Korean men who employ the prostitutes’ services one minute, and then condemn them for being morally corrupt sluts in the next. However, I would rather see a better-researched article on the subject, not this misinformed, smugly morally superior litany.

      • Yes. Thank you. The tone is smug and self righteous and all too common among these expat blogs. A teenager asked for grammar help. The author yells at him for 20 minutes. The teenager is wondering: wtf? The author walks away freling morally superior. Silly Koreans. It’s gross.

    • Wow, angry much? This was just a blog post – not an ‘article’ (but thanks, I feel like a real journalist!). You are right though, Mark. I am pleased that a year after writing this post it was somehow ‘discovered’, and tens of thousands of people, for whatever reason, are actually reading my crap. (Thanks for reading) :)

  16. The author of this blog seems to not be able to distinguish the difference between “illegal” and “occurance.” His/her student is correct. Prostitution is illegal in SK. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. The student never made any claims that it doesn’t exist. Just as cocaine or heroine is illegal in the U.S., that doesn’t mean you won’t find people abusing them. Prostitution is also illegal in the U.S., but it also happens.

  17. Illegality is not the same thing as non-existence.

    Based on the brief excerpt of the young author’s article provided, it seems he is merely stating that prostitution is illegal in Korea and that this is morally good from his perspective. I don’t get the impression that he is denying the widespread existence and toleration of prostitution or the lax enforcement of anti-sex trade laws here.

    A similar corollary would be the ongoing debate over marijuana legalization in the United States. Despite widespread use of the drug and a lack of evidence to support the (often hyperbolic) dangers of usage, there are those who argue that marijuana should continue to be illegal on moral grounds, even if law enforcement turns a blind eye to recreational use. In the eyes of those who hold these views, the laws of a society help to form the moral bedrock of that society and that some laws are more important symbolically than functionally. I get the impression that the freshman author of the article is making a similar point vis a vis the Korean sex trade.

  18. Here is the thing, I think technically it is illegal. Also, I have heard that adultery is illegal as well. Of course, these laws do not go enforced. You can literally see here brothels DIRECTLY behind police stations. Seriously. It is an unfortunate reality that it takes place a lot here. A LOT. This isnt surprising at all. Korean women are hot, if not by nature then by plastic surgery. And men will always want t pay for sex, aint nothing going to change there. What is surprising is the degree that people will deny that it exists. I’ve had many students say the same thing “oh its illegal and doenst exist”. To be honest, i am not sure to what extent people actually believe this. In Asia, and Korea specifically, it is considered honorable to “save face”. As westerners, his concepts seems a bit bizarre to say the least. I don’t know, it may be dishonorable to acknowledge or something. It is very real. Its also not entirely so black and white as far as who is doing this. Sure, some women do this as a way to just make some quick cash. I once got a prostitute in Itaewon and she was a young college student on spring break. She just wanted to make some quick money before going back to school. The average wage for a worker at a food place is 5,000 an hour. So, they could make as much as they could for 10 hours by just fucking a random guy that they would probably do anyway for free (ok, im sorry this sounds a bit bad but it is a reality about the women here that they have very loose sexual habbits, which incidentally might be the reason so many are willing to do it for money). And there are also women who have huge debts to pay and there is no other way to do this, as mentioned there is too big of a wage gap between women and men. I have heard something like 80 percent of women make like 1,000,000 won a month of less (about 1,000 usd). Finally, Korea has some extremely harmful ideas about sex. For example, parents dont discuss it with their children, or friends with friends. This leads to some very immoral and dangerous sexual practices amongst most people here. In order for this country to really progress in this area they need a kind of sexual revolution. Unfortunately, due to the confusism, that is not likely to happen anytime soon.

  19. A hooker won’t give you happiness our love. You might enjoy it for a few seconds but it won’t last. Love is the only true value in this world.
    Real men don’t paid for sex.

    • Hookers in the bars in Yongji-gol in 1967 gave my husband a great deal of happiness through relieving him when he was horny. He paid for sex on numerous occasions. He was an MP in the Army stationed near the DMZ for 13 months. The hookers could’ve shared numerous STDs with him and the Army doctors would’ve treated him without charge. Why anyone would want to leave such a paradise (all the sex the lboys want for $3 a throw & no consequences at all – in fact the more hookers a guy had sex with the more manly he was – what a good time was had by all) is beyond me but my husband actually seemed glad to be back in the States. Guess he didn’t miss the Korean girls.

  20. I love the so called “progressive morality” these articles exude. Let me ask you.. Is Thailand a better place because prostitution laws aren’t vigorously enforced? There seems to be an impression that in places where prostitution is legal (or at least tolerated) that it’s all the much better for the sex workers in that environment. That is a fallacy. The Red Light workers in Amsterdam still have pimps (many are affiliated with criminal gangs) that they have to give a large portion of their earnings to. The bar girls of Phnom Penh and Bangkok don’t get to see a lot of the bar fines paid for their company. It may look on the up and up, but in reality it’s slavery, human flesh paid by the pound.

    Do stringent laws eradicate the crimes they target? Of course not. Does that mean we should loosen the penalties for murder or lower the age of consent? I mean there will always be murderers and pedophiles right? Laws like this are not simply in place for moral reasons. There public safety, quality of life and other more complex issues to confront. Would you like to raise children in environment where prostitutes and pimps can ply their trade openly? Would you like your country, state, city to become ground zero for every fat, nasty, socially inept creep on the planet? It’s easy to condemn laws as unfair when you are living in your safe little progressive enclaves. I, on the other hand, have had to live in an area where I couldn’t walk out my door without being propositioned. Trust me, the amusement value drops to zero very quickly.

    I wish you could meet Pham, a young lady I tutored in Cambodia. At 15, she was former child prostitute in the final stages of AIDS. To me, she was a very real face of the horrors of prostitution. At that age she should have been hanging teen idol posters on her walls and giggling about boys. But no, her life was over, while the foreigner prick who infected her was probably going to live many more years and infect many more young women like her.

    If the author is so more morally outraged by the fact the hypocrisy of Korean society (show a culture that isn’t), then why isn’t he doing anything about? Because easier to rant in a blog rather than try to change things for the better. And by better, I mean a world safe from the pimps and madams that attach themselves to so many young women (and men) and bleed them into husks.

    • Since you chose to attack me above, I shouldn’t even engage with you but I will anyway. You are not the only one who has ever encountered human suffering. I have worked for an anti-trafficking organisation working with (mostly stateless) children at the Thai-Myanmar border, and with another NGO working with children living with HIV, and I have encountered victims, too.

      Your encounter with Pham in Cambodia surely must have had an impact on you, just as those experiences had an impact on me, just that our reactions are different.

      Nobody is denying that trafficking for the purpose of labour and/or sexual exploitation is a real problem and not one of the sex workers I know through my work has ever claimed that there aren’t problems in their line of work.

      Since you choose to argue as emotionally as you do and quickly dismiss me (and probably others) as john/pimp or whatever else, why not look into the research published by the World Health Organisation or the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, a project of the U.N. Development Programme, or are they also all johns and pimps?

      The 2012 WHO report states that “laws that directly or indirectly criminalize or penalize sex workers, their clients and third parties, and abusive law enforcement practices” undermine HIV prevention efforts and limit sex workers’ access to care.

      The Global Commission on HIV and the Law examined laws in 140 countries and found that more than 100 of them criminalised some aspect of sex work. The report concluded: “The legal environment in many countries exposes sex workers to violence and results in their economic and social exclusion.” That is, laws against sex work harm, not help, sex workers.

      Maybe you want to reconsider if Pham wouldn’t have been better off if laws would have been different in Cambodia. Definitely not helpful are attempts to silence people in the debate, especially not sex workers, trafficking victims and other experts in the field.

      Links to resources:

      (1) http://www.who.int/hiv/pub/guidelines/sex_worker/en/
      (2) http://www.hivlawcommission.org/

  21. ps. Josh, if you think laws aren’t much enforced in Thailand, then you can read the report “Hit and Run: The impact of anti-trafficking policy and practice on Sex Workers’ Human Rights in Thailand” by the EMPOWER Foundation.

    Quote: “We have now reached a point in history where there are more women in the Thai sex industry being abused by anti-trafficking practices than there are women exploited by traffickers.”

    You can download the report on the United Nations’ AIDS Data Hub

  22. Just came across this – love it! Of course it’s something that your friend, or many Korean people, wouldn’t want to admit. However, everyone knows it happens. It continues to baffle me how *in-your-face* the advertisements for sexually charged businesses are yet there is such a general lack of concern or, oftentimes, as you highlighted — denial, by most people.

  23. wonderful submit, very informative. I’mwondering why the opposite
    specialists of this sector do not understand this. You
    must continue your writing. I am confident, you have a huge readers’
    base already!

  24. So many opinions! And facts!!! Well is there any full koreans here? Not half half and half kind of thing? Well. Not that many Korean students or adults know that truth about the dark side of Korea. So u cant blame the kid or non the less call him stupid…. Well a lot of USA’s military personnel uses prostitutes we call those girls Yankees or something like that. Korea is becoming very international. And by its changing drastically.

    Now having sex became some what of a THING. Even the Elementary schoolers r into it. A lot of rape of little kids and many done by foreigners and military personnels and far to many by the koreans themselves. A nation cant just get rid of sexual acts that easily.

    And yes there r a lot of whores and sluts. But it all comes down to men. Its not our culture but its just how men r~ fucking girl than call them sluts. Girls get raped and now there sluts. well… I dont think any of us (humans) have the power to get rid of prostitutes. And well all know debating is never the answer for these situations. (We really should stop hating…. But that’s impossible.)

    • Apparently, stopping to hate is impossible for you, indeed, or else you might refrain from using the words ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ and making claims about who rapes women or visits sex workers, without any evidence to back them up.

  25. Back in the mid 1960’s prostitution WAS legal , and the girls were required to go to doctor a couple times per month and get their “health card ” stamped

  26. The LAPD says 90% of prostitutes caught in LA are Koreans. Most of massage parlors (that sell sex) in the US are run by Koreans. Koreans run prostitution rings in Japan. Korean prostitutes are also in Australia in big way as well as Southeast Asian countries. This means they are everywhere.

  27. why you need to stop it when you cant stop it!!
    how many times the police have raid those brothel…1 have raid 2 open new tomorrow
    make it legal…better to be control in 1 area ….pay tax….be independent and don’t need to be control by gang or pimp….see the reality….you cant stop it…than control it!!!

  28. I’m so glad prostitution is illegal here in California too. except for all those full body massage places, and the “foot” massage places — 2 of these in the mini mall closest to me! Oh yeah and the Vietnamese coffee shops, where I’m assured nothing untoward ever happens. I am a little suspicious of the section of N 1st st with all the cheap motels and women walking around in miniskirts in the winter.

  29. There were plenty of prostitutes in South Korea in 1967. My husband was an MP stationed near the DMZ. He got drunk a lot & walked to “the village” which was Yongji-gol when he decided he needed a woman. Yongji-gol is the heart of prostitute in South Korea & there were at that time numerous bars staffed by prostitutes who for $3 would have sex with any G.I. My husband used the prostitutes for sex & didn’t consider it committing adultery. Interesting opinion right? The U.S. govt & the Korea govt both encouraged men like my husband to engage in sex with prostitutes as entertainment. Not exactly helpful to our marriage but the Army wasn’t particularly interested in helping our marriage. At least my husband didn’t get VD which was rampant in the prostitutes at the time. And he didn’t fall in love with any of the prostitutes so I suppose that’s a plus. And as far as I know he didn’t father any children with any of the prostitutes. Another plus. And he had a good time with absolutely no consequences. It be great to hear from anyone reading this who knew my husband when he was stationed in Korea. I’d like to know the names of the bars he went to when he was drinking with his Army buddies who decided they wanted a prostitute so Bobby went along with them, happily I’m sure. He said he often was drunk for days at a time which he why he doesn’t remember any of the women he had sex with – not that I believe him – but it seems to make him feel better to say that. He says he didn’t enjoy sex with them but he had sex with them on numerous occasions so it’s strange that he didn’t enjoy it. LOL! He said the filth & the smell in the bars was sickening & that the women smelled bad too; however, he still had sex with them. Men are indeed odd individuals.

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