While there are no street hookers and the milieu is drug-free, prostitution is nonetheless widespread and a serious problem in Korea. As of 2003, a study performed by the Korean Institute of Criminology showed that 4.1% of the women in their 20s were working in the trade industry.
However, things might be improving rapidly in this regard with the strict enforcement of a law against this type of activity passed in September 2004. For instance: In 2002, South Korean police arrested 3,500 people in the sex trade. But since the crackdown was launched, some 16,951 prostitutes were arrested in 2004 and 18,508 in 2005, the Ministry on Gender Equality said. As well, Seoul's largest red-light district now only has 60 brothels compared to more than 150 just a few years ago. The campaign has encouraged more than 1,200 people a year to enter a government program that offers a 7.6 million won ($8,000) grant for job training and other expenses as well as a place at a halfway house to help them leave the profession.
The program also provides interest-free loans of up to 30 million won to help former prostitutes start their own businesses.
Prostitution in Korea takes on several faces including the massage parlours, barber shops, bars, brothels, room salons, juicy bars, turkish baths, strip clubs, etc, spread throughout the country. The job is moderately lucrative.
According to a recent poll, 80% of women working in the entertainment industry in korea make between 3 and 5 million wons per month net income (3180$US - 5300$US per month), 7% make in excess of 5 million wons, and 13% make less than 3 million wons. The average salary of prostitutes is comparable to the one of korean engineers with 10+ year seniority or professors at public universities. According to the Korean Institute of Criminology, 20 percent of adult males aged between 20-64 purchase sex 4.5 times per month, spending a sum that breaks down to 154,000 wons (165$US) for each visit.
For tourists and aliens alike, only the least desirable options are
available. Indeed, in the "decent" red-light districts, foreigners are generally not welcomed especially if they are not accompanied by a korean friend. This is due to several reasons, one being that foreigners are believed to be more susceptible to carry sexually transmitted diseases.
In the case of the room salons, the hostesses are generally not fluent in english and the presence of foreigners does create some incomfort in a situation
where chatting, singing, and drinking takes place for several hours. The first class room salons have a cost per person per evening of 1,000,000 wons and include a night in a motel room generally located one floor above or below the salon. It should be noted that for both the second-class and the first-class room salons, physical intimacy with the hostesses will only be possible on the second and subsequent visits.
Here are the typical costs in Seoul, as well as in the other Korean cities. Note that
as of 2006, 1,000 Wons = 1$US.
Those interested in those types of activities should enjoy them while they last as it seems the korean authorities are very serious these days about breaking down the prostitution rings.