South Korea has an active sex trade. Prostitution is illegal — prostitutes and their clients can be fined US$3,000 and imprisoned for up to a year — but tolerated and fairly common. According to the Korea Herald: “In Korea, an establishment selling sex is rarely more than a short walk or mouse click away. Such is the visibility of massage parlors, room salons and karaoke joints that facilitate prostitution that a first-time visitor to a Korean city could be forgiven for thinking the sex trade was legal. Even some 40 percent of Koreans claimed to be unaware that prostitution was illegal in a survey carried out in 2001, before the introduction of the 2004 Special Law on Prostitution that criminalizes both the buying and selling of sex. [Source: Korea Herald, September 2, 2013]

In a survey of men who visit brothels, 54.2 percent said they did not use a condom and 72 percent of these men said they didn't because they had drunk too much alcohol. In the 1990s — and to some degree today — massage parlors operated out of barber shops. One guy I knew who went to a barber-shop place at that time he paid about US$50 for backroom oral sex.

According to the Korea Herald in 2013, The South Korean government Ministry of Gender Equality and Family estimated the prostitution industry was worth almost 7 trillion won (US$6.3 billion) annually, According to the South Korean Institute of Criminology, the amount spent on prostitution alone amounted to US$23.6 billion in 2002. In 2006, President Roh Moo-hyun stressed the need for establishing a "healthy consumption culture," implying money should be spent on things other than the sex trade. [Source: Associated Press. April 15, 2005]

South Korean Court Upholds Ban on Prostitution

In March 2016, The Constitutional Court in South Korea upheld the country’s ban on prostitution. Prostitutes wanting their work decriminalized were the ones who brought the suit to challenge existing laws. The review stems from a case involving a 42-year-old prostitute indicted for having sex with a 23-year-old man for money.“The growing trend to liberalize and promote openness in sex doesn’t condone or justify its commercialization,” Justice Kim Chang-jong wrote in the court’s majority ruling, which found that the 2004 antiprostitution law did not violate the South Korean Constitution. [Source: Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times, March 31, 2016]

Choe Sang-Hun wrote in the New York Times: “But the court was more divided than in past rulings upholding the ban. Three of its nine justices fiercely criticized what they called a government crackdown on women driven to prostitution by desperate circumstances. One dissenting justice, Cho Yong-ho, called the choice of those women “a matter of survival.” “The majority view insists that prostitution should not be protected by law because it harms human dignity,” Justice Cho wrote in his dissent. “But nothing harms human dignity more than a threat to survival.”

“Prostitution has always been illegal in South Korea, but for decades the authorities turned a blind eye to it, and red-light districts prospered. That approach changed after 2002, when 14 young prostitutes died in a fire, trapped in their rooms. Amid a public outcry, the government enacted the 2004 statute, which not only outlaws prostitution but calls on the authorities to take active measures to eradicate it. An aggressive campaign against the sex trade followed, and some prostitutes fought back. In 2012, Kim Jeong-mi, a Seoul prostitute, filed the challenge that the court rejected. There had been previous challenges to the law, all unsuccessful, but Ms. Kim’s drew considerable attention because it was the first one brought by a prostitute.

A few prostitutes who listened to the ruling in court said they were saddened and outraged. “We are not giving up our fight for a livelihood,” said one, Chang Se-hee. Justice Cho said it was unfair to punish prostitutes and their frequently poor clientele while doing little about wealthy men who engage in “sponsor’s contracts,” or paid sexual relationships with young women.

Two other dissenting justices, Kim Yi-su and Kang Il-won, argued that the state should help rehabilitate prostitutes rather than punish them with a criminal charge. But the court’s majority argued that decriminalizing prostitution would encourage the sex industry and “further degrade sexual morality” in a culture where, they noted, a common form of bribery involves “jeopdae,” a form of wining and dining that often involves prostitutes. Kang Hyun-joon, the head of a national association of prostitutes, said after the ruling that it “pushes the poor women to the brink of death.” He said his group would take the issue to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Korean Women Lawyers Association issued a statement welcoming the ruling, saying that if prostitution were legalized, more minors would be drawn into the trade. “This is a victory for the nation!” a woman outside the court house shouted, raising her arms. She declined to be interviewed.

Businessmen and Prostitution in South Korea

Businessmen sometimes arrange illicit sexual encounters in exchange for deals. Wealthy men engage in “sponsor’s contracts,” or paid sexual relationships with young women. In 2019, Seungri, the youngest member of popular K-Pop group Big Bang, was forced to quit the group on charges that he procured prostitutes for businessmen and foreign investors in some of Seoul’s most fashionable Gangnam district nightclubs (See Below).

Visiting prostitutes is so common among rank-and-file salarymen that the South Korean government handed out gifts in 2006 to office workers who promise not to visit brothels during Christmas-New-year holiday season. "If you promise yourself to make it a healthy night out at the end of the year, and if you recommend this to others, we are giving lots of prizes," the Ministry of Gender Equality said in an Internet posting. [Source: Reuters, December 25, 2006]

Reuters reported: “The ministry is offering to pay companies whose employees pledge not to buy sex after what are typically alcohol-soaked, year-end parties. A ministry official told the Korea Times daily: "Korean corporate culture that includes heavy drinking is also what makes buying sex acceptable as a way for male-bonding, which is proving to be a hard-to-break ritual."

“The ministry is offering movie tickets based on the number of employees who pledge not to visit prostitutes as well as a cash prize of 1 million won (US$1,077) for the company which enlists the most employees in the campaign. Many South Koreans were bewildered by the plan, saying it was a waste of money and gave the impression that South Korean men cannot keep away from brothels. "Do they really think men buy sex every time they have a dinner party?" wrote one Korean on a comment page of the South Korea's largest daily Chosun Ilbo.

Korean Prostitution in the 1990s: Turkey Baths and Barbershops

In the old days a barber-shop poll often indicated a small local house of prostitution while Turkey baths (a Korean corruption of Turkish baths) were more upscale brothels. In 1996, under pressure from Turkey, public bathhouses that commonly served as fronts for brothels could no longer be called “Turkish baths” and instead were called “steam baths.” At that time than 100 so-called Turkish baths were registered in South Korea. The entrance fee, as high as US$300, includes a “special massage” from a scantily-dressed woman. [Source: Associated Press, August 20, 1996]

Associated Press reported: Under new government regulations, all newly licensed baths were forbidden from employing female workers while existing bathhouses with female workers were given a two-year grace period to comply. It is uncertain how the Turkish bath got its name. Similar establishments in Japan also were called Turkish baths until about 10 years ago, when most changed their names to “soapland” after protests by Turkish and Middle Eastern minority groups.

In the old days, the primary sex district of Pusan was “Texas Street”. The neighborhood was full of sex shop and bars. Pimps were reportedly tipped off about raids before they happened and could make escapes through trap doors. Today, Texas Street is a tourist area with a lot of Russians.

Prostitutes in South Korea

In the old days prostitutes often worked out of barber shops described above as still do some degree but are more likely to be found at love hotels. They sometimes work out of hostess bars, singing rooms, video rooms and karaokes.

A growing number of Russian and East European women are showing up at hostess bars and other places where prostitutes are known to hang out. Many arrive on performance visas under the pretense of performing in a play or ice skating show and appear in bars in special rooms luring customers with "exotic" experiences.

Teenage prostitution is a problem. By some estimates there are hundreds of thousands of teenage girls working as prostitutes at karaokes, love hotels, sex clubs and bars. In some cases the girls are kidnaped by gangsters and forces intro prostitution.

Korean Prostitutes Around American Bases

There are many brothels in the towns outside the U.S. military bases in South Korea. In a film on the subject called "The Women Outside," prostitutes said they were tested weekly for sexually-transmitted diseases by army medical personnel and forced to wear cards that said they were clean. One 50-year-old prostitute said she spent half her life working as a prostitute to pay off debts she owed a pimp, who described himself as a patriotic hero for bringing hard currency into South Korea.

Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “Around American military bases in Korea, for example, are camptowns called kijich 'on, with strips of bars and brothels that earn dollars from off-duty troops and are tolerated by U.S. and Korean authorities as a way to divert the troops and make their tours of duty in Korea slightly less boring. The kijich'on phenomenon goes far beyond entertaining the troops, however. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

“The women who work in the kijich 'on are tainted for life and unlikely ever to be able to return to normal society, not only because of their trade but also because many Koreans look down on their contamination by foreigners. In the years just after the Korean War there was an additional human tragedy in the form of children born of the liaisons between Korean kijich'on women and American soldiers. Birth control methods and abortion have largely eliminated this part of the problem, but the institutional exploitation of Korean women as part of the U.S.-South Korean defense arrangement continues to be an irritant to Koreans generally and a human tragedy to the women themselves.”

Housewife Prostitutes, Hostess Bars and Telephone Clubs in South Korean

In 1996, polices arrested a group of well-educated, middle-class housewives who had formed a prostitution ring to overcome boredom. The women worked out of love-hotel yogwans in suburban Seoul and charged their customers between 50,000 and 100,000 won. One of the women told police, she engaged in prostitution "in order to earn money to pay for the private lessons of my two sons." Another said, "I had plenty of time to spare and was bored so I decided to become a 'working girl.' I started out of curiosity but got hooked."

Many men in Korea go to hostess bars, where women flatter them, pour their drinks, light their cigarettes but generally don't have sex with them. There also host bars where the same services are performed by young men for women. The main difference between the two is that police sometimes raid the host bars and arrest the women in attendance, something that would never happen at a hostess bar.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, South Korea has numerous Japanese-style telephone clubs which were sometimes used for selling sex. One middle school girl set up a recorded message that said she was recruiting members for sex club and anyone who interested should deposit 100,000 won in her bank account. The girls was arrested with about 540,000 won (US$645) in her account.

Migrant Women Engaging in Prostitution in South Korea

Some migrant women in South Korea resort to prostitution to make ends meet after leaving their abusive Korean husbands. Lee Hyo-sik wrote in the Korea Times: “An increasing number of foreign women who come here to marry Korean men are running away from home and engaging in prostitution to earn "easy money,” creating a daunting task for the immigration authorities. Substantial numbers of migrant wives decide not to live with their Korean husbands and their families, due to financial hardship among other reasons. They then try to stand on their own feet by normally working as helpers at restaurants or other low-paying places. But some of them choose to sell sex in karaoke bars, massage parlors and other late-night entertainment establishments, lured by larger sums of money. [Source: Lee Hyo-sik. Korea Times, January 27, 2011]

“Several groups of migrant women over a period of a weeks have been caught engaging in the sex trade, not only in Seoul and its adjacent cities but also in rural areas. They are normally deported back to their home countries. On January 20, the police raided a brothel, disguised as a barbershop, in Ulsan where two Chinese Korean women in their 40s sold sex. Investigators booked a 50-year-old Chinese Korean who manages the place, the two women and a man buying sex at the time of the raid. The brothel has been operating since December last year and was found to have earned over 24 million won.

“According to the Ulsan Metropolitan Police Agency, the two women entered the country by marrying Korean men. But soon after, they left homes and became prostitutes to earn money for their families in China. “A large number of Korean men tying the knot with foreign women grapple with financial hardship. Many of the women run away from home to make money. Some work at restaurants and other low-paying service businesses, while others engage in prostitution,’’ a police officer said. He said another establishment suspected of selling sex was raided on December 23 and 10 foreign women employed as prostitutes there were deported back to their home countries.

“Kang Sung-hea, chief director of the Emergency Support Center for Migrant Women, said the government should make it more difficult for those who sexually exploit migrant women. “I know that some foreign wives come here to make easy money by selling sex. They should be deported to their home countries immediately. But many are forced into prostitution against their will or just to make ends meet. We should first look into why they have to run away from their husbands and sell sex for survival,’’ Kang said.

“The center, established in 2006 to help foreign women cope here, is affiliated with the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. Besides its headquarters in central Seoul, there are six other branch offices across the nation. The chief director then said law enforcement authorities should give harsher punishments to those taking advantage of foreign wives. “Foreign women forced into prostitution by their husbands or others should be given a second chance to live a descent life here. They should not be indiscriminately deported back to their home nations.’’

There are no official statistics on how many foreign women are currently engaged in prostitution, Kang said, adding their number will likely increase down the road. “About 140,000 non-Korean women currently reside here. Last year alone, a total of 25,000 foreign women came here mostly as brides to Korean men. Our centers, along with Multicultural Family Support Centers, should be given more resources to provide a comprehensive package of solutions to migrant women and their family members for a more stable life,’’ she said.

Curbing South Korean Prostitution Limited and Self-Defeating

Despite the openness of prostitution and easy availability of prostitutes, authorities say they are working hard to reign in the sex trade and make a sizable number of prostitution-related arrests every year. The number of people arrested for patronizing or working in the sex industry, however, has declined, from a peak of 73,000 in 2009 to 21,123 in 2012. [Source: Korea Herald, September 2, 2013]

The Korea Herald reported: The persistent visibility and scale of the industry has caused some working in outreach services for prostitutes and victims of sex trafficking to question how serious the authorities really are about the issue. Ahn Chang-hye, a former worker at one such support center in Seoul, acknowledged the authorities faced challenges in catching perpetrators “in the act,” but insisted they could be doing more. “Despite the anti-prostitution law saying that even advertising or enticing the buying or selling of sex is illegal and is punishable, it all depends on how badly the government wants to eradicate it and how many resources the government is willing to put in,” said Ahn. “I believe that the police can do a much better job as long as they work with more passion, but... busting brothels is not one of their priorities.”

“Those in law enforcement deny apathy is the reason for the prevalence of the industry, instead pointing to limited resources and difficulties collecting evidence. “The police have designated a certain period every year devoted to crackdowns on prostitution as well as regular police raids,” a Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency officer said on condition of anonymity. “However, the size of the police force is very limited and there are other divisions we need to take care of, so it is difficult for us to exert our full force on prostitution problems.”

“Kim Kang-ja, a former chief of Jongam Police Station who led a number of crackdowns on the industry in the 2000s, echoed these sentiments. “The sex-trafficking population is too large for the police to take under control,” said Kim, who is currently a visiting professor at the department of police administration at Hannam University in Daejeon. “For each police station, only 3-4 police officers on average work on the prostitution problem. Therefore, in reality, they are only able to deal with those incidents that are notified to us because of the limited number of police.”

Matthias Lehmann, an independent researcher from Germany and member of the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe, spent a year in Seoul investigating the impact of the law, interviewing women working in the industry, NGOs and other concerned parties. He said the current legal situation was doing more harm than good. “Verbal and physical abuse of sex workers through law enforcement is a reality in South Korea.... The decriminalization of sex work wouldn't solve all problems in the sex industry — just like laws in other industries don't root out exploitation and abuse — but evidence-based research indicates that, under the right conditions, legal sex work can be organized in a way that enhances workers' safety and job satisfaction,” Lehmann said.

Economics of South Korea’s Feeble Attempts to Curb Prostitution

Not everyone agrees that greater enforcement would even corresponded to a reduction of the sex trade in South Korea. According to the Korea Herald: “A professor at the school of business administration at Halla University, said that the law was in fact being enforced, but not with the result of a reduction in the sex trade. Instead, he said, enforcement was precisely what had allowed it to flourish. The strict enforcement contributes to the openness of industry,” said a professor. “The economic mechanism behind the effect is very simple. The success of enforcement in one area reduces the prostitution supply and leads to a higher price. [Source: Korea Herald, September 2, 2013]

“Since the costs to enter are very low, higher prices induce more people to open the business in other areas where they can avoid detection. The more intense the enforcement, the more widespread the industry becomes.” The professor claimed that some of the most unsavory aspects attributed to the sex industry were actually the result of legal interference. “Even though the higher price contributes to reducing the demand for prostitution, total revenue increases if the demand is inelastic,” he said. “The increased rewards, in turn, stimulate more people to engage in prostitution and to invent legal but unethical types of prostitution. In addition, the steady source of income could lure criminals to organize and let them bribe the public officials. In the absence of the law these problems would have been unlikely to occur.”

“Some coming from an economics viewpoint argue that the authorities would never be able to stop prostitution even if they really wanted to. The professor of Halla University said the legal response had to take into account the reality of human nature and the rules of supply and demand. “Sex enables us to pass genes on to the next generation. We humans are programmed to have sex for survival of the human species. It is unlikely that the law can eliminate the desire for sex previously satisfied through prostitution. The unsatisfied desire remains as pent-up demand. The demand creates the market,” said the professor. “If history has taught us anything, it is that the market forces have won over any institution against them in the long run. To avoid long-term distortions and unintended consequences, we should make the current law market-friendly.”

Korean-Staffed Massage Parlors in Suburban New York City Strip Malls

In 1995, the New York Times reported: “Just north of the village's prosperous downtown, squeezed between Acme Cleaning and Papa John's Pizza in a strip mall at 352 Great Neck Road, is a storefront that flourished without a shingle or a name. The next-door neighbors were naturally suspicious about the store's shy occupants: the male customers who arrived with furtive glances and left with tousled hair; the Korean women who labored at odd hours in scanty cocktail dresses. "Hookers," smirked one of the apron-clad pizza parlor employees after the Nassau police raided the store for prostitution for the second time. "They were real quiet, and they bought pizza from us. I just laughed at it because they did nothing to us. It happens all the time." [Source: New York Times, May 28, 1995]

“The trade — strip-mall brothels that accept Mastercard and offer reasonable rates — is expanding in the metropolitan area's upscale suburbs to convenient locations with plentiful parking. Disguised as barbershops and doctors' offices, the brothels, police and city officials say, have spread along a commuter path from midtown Manhattan, north to Westchester County and east to Queens, then most recently to the shopping strips of Nassau and Suffolk counties.

“Affluent communities are not immune; the Charming Gardens Massage Parlor flourished in Great Neck until it was raided for prostitution. Other parlors settled in middle- and upper-middle-class suburbs like Manhasset, Medford and Carle Place until the police or local civic associations discovered them. "It is a lucrative business," said a sociology professor at Rutgers University in Newark, who has studied Asian crime. "It's a trend, a phenomenon that is not only true of New York, but also Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Boston. There's no question that you will see more of these because of the strong demand."

“The parlors, which first appeared in midtown Manhattan in the early 1980's and then gradually expanded to the suburbs, have their roots in South Korea and the rings of bars, clubs and barbershops that surrounded dozens of United States military bases.”

Triple Acupressure Massage Parlor

On the Triple Acupressure center, after a raid, the New York Times reported: “The parlor was little more than three small bedrooms furnished with massage tables and a kitchen spread with a flat Korean-style heated pad for sleeping. As the undercover officers searched the rooms for hidden cash, customers continued to arrive, knocking on the door or ringing for appointments. "Anybody there?" a male voice pleaded on the telephone answering machine for a third time during the search.

“Police suspect that the parlors are part of a circuit because a number of the same women have been arrested in different shops. They have also watched the growth of a small industry that serves the business: catering services that supply packaged Korean food, car services that transport the women, and carpenters who make custom massage parlor tables. "We've had Korean chauffeurs come down, bail the girls out and drive them where they want to go," said the commanding officer of Nassau County's vice squad. "We recently received a call from state police in North Carolina who were running a background check on a woman applying for a massage therapy license, who had been arrested in Nassau for prostitution."

“Basic services start at US$50 for a simple massage, with anything extra costing up to US$250. Customers tip the women for the extras, the police said, adding that the women usually earn US$10 of the US$50 massage fee and keep the tips. The customers reflect their communities and are typically white men who like the convenience of traveling to parlors a few miles from their homes, the police said.”

Korean Prostitutes in Suburban New York City Strip Malls

The Korean-staffed massage parlors are, according to the New York Times, “largely staffed by Korean women who share a troubled history of broken marriages to American G.I.'s and bleak job prospects as single women in this country. The suburban brothels, which recruit "massage parlor girls" through ads in Korean newspapers,

▪“So prevalent are the parlors that a small halfway house called Rainbow Center opened two years ago in the heart of the Korean section of Flushing to offer a refuge to abused Korean women, particularly ex-massage parlor girls seeking to change their lives. "They go into it because they think that they can work for five years and earn enough money to start a new life," said the executive director of the center. But happy endings are rare, she said. [Source: New York Times, May 28, 1995]

“Mrs A whose photograph of her chubby-cheeked toddler son was found by police in the bare” Triple Acupressure parlor described above “along with condoms and the night's appointment list of 24 customers, told the arresting officers that she needed the money. "I was born in South Korea, and I live with my brother and sister and my baby boy," Mrs A, 43, of Flushing said in a statement to police. "About 10 days ago, I answered an ad in a Korean newspaper for a massage person."

“Known as club women, at least 18,000 are registered in South Korea as prostitutes, said a member of Young Koreans United, which has organized seminars studying the sociology of prostitution and United States military bases. Many of the club women married American soldiers and moved to the United States with them. "In the U.S.," Ms. L said, "they had a language and culture problem, and the husband was the only person they could rely on. When the husbands have began to treat these women cruelly, they reverted back to what they did in Korea, which in many cases was prostitution."

Crackdowns on Korean-Staffed Suburban New York City Massage Parlors

According to New York Times, the massage parlors “typically advertise in local Korean newspapers to recruit the women and in mainstream newspapers to draw the customers. Their names reveal little about them, but by scanning the ads, local vice squads have made arrests at places like the New Center for Reflexology and the Okinawa Spa. [Source: New York Times, May 28, 1995]

In 1994, “Nassau police arrested nearly 200 women and a handful of pimps and customers on prostitution charges at 33 locations.” The arrests were down in 1995. “but it appears that many of the parlors have shifted over the county line to Suffolk, where more than 375 people were arrested on prostitution charges last year.

“In Suffolk County, Triple Acupressure attracted a steady group of customers to its corner store in a shopping strip that faced the fenced gardens and swimming pools of middle-class Medford. Its classified ads, promoting its sauna, ultimately drew a team of helmeted Suffolk County police officers. Last week, the unit forced its way through the double doors of Triple Acupressure, and within minutes two leaders emerged in handcuffs, heads bowed.

“In response, leaders in some suburban communities have tried to crush the business by urging unusually stiff jail sentences and by increasing building inspections in an effort to fine the landlords who permit the parlors to rent space. Before the parlors started expanding into the suburbs, prostitution was treated with leniency by the courts, which ordered only short probation periods or small fines. Jail sentences, when they happened, were never longer than 10 days. In New York City, prostitutes rarely spend more than a night in jail. "The judges I spoke to felt that the parlors posed a greater threat because they are institutions and are in neighborhoods," said a Garden City lawyer who has defended women accused of prostitution. "I think that people who moved to Long Island or other suburbs expected a certain level of peace and quiet and insulation from city life."

Imprisoned Korean Prostitutes in Suburban New York City

According to New York Times: “Since Nassau County started cracking down on the massage parlors, some of the Korean prostitutes have received jail sentences as long as seven months. In the Nassau County jail, a Korean girl has been serving a sentence for prostitution that has now gone on for more than seven months. The ex-wife of an American soldier, Ms. A, 43, of Flushing had been arrested several times on prostitution charges when she faced District Court Judge B in December. [Source: New York Times, May 28, 1995]

At the outset of one hearing, the judge expressed doubts about whether Ms.A and her co-defendant had appeared in the courthouse for a previous hearing. Ms.A's attorney, swore to the judge that other court employees had seen him with the women. "They could have been other Korean people," said Judge B, according to court transcripts. "You have other Korean clients." "Well," Mr. C replied, "I have other Korean people standing next to me under that theory." Later, Judge Bs scoffed at Mr.C's argument that the local judges had an unwritten policy to drive Korean prostitutes out of the country with stiff sentences.

“But it is clear that Nassau has a far different focus from that of Westchester County, where women receive fines and probation on prostitution charges. Instead, the Westchester District Attorney's office targets landlords, who are fined under a nuisance abatement law. "What we have found is that the individual prostitutes are not the problem," said a spokesman for the district attorney's office. "In fact, they're the victims."

South Korean Sex Slaves in Australia

In 2008, Rob Taylor of Reuters wrote: Australian police said they had freed 10 South Korean women held captive and forced to work in a Sydney brothel, after raids that led to the arrest of five people accused of heading a sex-trafficking ring. The 10 women were forced to work up to 20 hours a day in a Sydney brothel and had their passports taken from them after they arrived from South Korea expecting to work as regular prostitutes, Australian police and immigration authorities said. "My understanding is they came to Australia to work in the sex industry. But under more reasonable conditions," Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Tim Morris told reporters. [Source: Rob Taylor, Reuters, March 7, 2008]

“Police said the syndicate recruited women in South Korea by deceiving them about the conditions under which they would be employed, and then organised their entry into Australia under false pretences. "This is probably the largest alleged syndicate that we have smashed," Immigration Department Assistant Secretary Lyn O'Connell said as the women received counselling. Five people were arrested in a series of raids on Thursday, including a 35-year-old South Korean female and a 46-year-old Korean-Australian woman believed to have headed the ring, which police said was a business worth AUS$3 million (US$2.7 million).

“The brothel was located near the centre of Sydney and had city government approval to operate. All five faced a Sydney court, charged with offences including people trafficking, debt bondage and deceptively recruiting for sexual services. Government prosecutors told the court that evidence against the ring included six months of intercepted phone calls and Korean language business documents. Accused ringleader Kwang Suk Ra did not apply for bail and was remanded in custody to appear again on March 12. Penalties in Australia for sex trafficking include maximum 15-year jail terms.

South Korean Man Arrested for Running Large Prostitution Ring in Hanoi

In 2005, Associated Press reported: “Vietnamese police have arrested a South Korean man for allegedly running a large prostitution ring catering to South Koreans in Hanoi, state-controlled media reported. He was arrested at Hanoi's Noi Bai International Airport before boarding a flight to Seoul, the Capital Police newspaper said. No charges have yet been filed, pending an investigation. Police earlier arrested four Vietnamese for allegedly working in the prostitution ring, it said. [Source: Associated Press, May 31, 2005]

“State media have reported that police raided a karaoke parlor and two hotels, and briefly detained nine South Koreans caught having sex with prostitutes. Nearly 47 women who worked as waitresses at the karaoke bar were also taken into custody and sent to a locked rehabilitation facility. The South Korean clients were released after paying fines, state media said. The karaoke bar only served South Korean customers, who could arrange to have sex with prostitutes at other Hanoi hotels for US$70 to US$95 per visit, the newspaper said.

“The newspaper quoted the alleged ringleader as telling police that he came to Vietnam in 2001, and had opened the karaoke parlor with four other South Koreans. He maintained that he was only the bar's marketing director, and that the prostitution operations were run by a Vietnamese person.” A week earlier, Prime Minister Phan Van Khai ordered that no new licenses would be granted to bars, karaoke parlors or discos as part of a crackdown on prostitution and drug abuse. Khai also ordered the Ministry of Public Security to launch crackdowns against violations at existing establishments. Vietnam has thousands of bars, karaoke parlors and discos, many of which are fronts for prostitution and drug abuse.

Seungri Kicked Out of Big Bang on Prostitution Charges

Seungri, the youngest member of Big Bang whose taste for the high life earned him the nickname the Great Gatsby of Korea., was ‘branded a national traitor’ and forced to quit the group on charges that he procured prostitutes for businessmen and foreign investors in some of Seoul’s most fashionable Gangnam district nightclubs. Seungri announced he would retire to fight the charges and to spare his management agency, YG Entertainment, and fellow band members further embarrassment, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. Prostitution is illegal in South Korea. The charges against Seungri carry a prison sentence of up to three years. [Source: Justin McCurry, The Guardian, March 12, 2019]

Tiffany May and Su-Hyun Lee wrote in the New York Times: The police in Seoul said that the singer, Lee Seung-hyun, 28" — Seungri — “was suspected of “offering sexual services” in 2015. Local news reports, citing what they said were leaked posts from a messaging app, said Mr. Lee was accused of arranging for investors to receive sexual favors at a nightclub called Arena. The investigation appears to have begun after video circulated online that was said to have shown a man being assaulted by employees at another nightclub, Burning Sun, which Mr. Lee has promoted. [Source: Tiffany May and Su-Hyun Lee, New York Times, March 12, 2019]

“According to local media reports, the man said he was trying to defend a woman who had been molested at the club. Lee Moon-ho, the head of Burning Sun, was questioned by the police for 10 hours, according to local news reports. In a statement he posted to Instagram before deleting his personal account, he said that many unfounded rumors were circulating about misconduct at the club — he cited claims of police collusion, drugging and sexual assault of women, and drug sales — but that the alleged assault on the man was the only confirmed episode....Businessmen are thought to sometimes arrange illicit sexual encounters in exchange for deals. As Seungri, Lee Seung-hyun has an outsize presence in Seoul’s night life and music scene, and also has his own chain of ramen restaurants. He has cultivated an image evoking F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby, with a solo tour and album under the title “The Great Seungri.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.