In 2003, the Korean Ministry of Gender Equality announced that 260,000 women—1 of 25 of young Korean women—may be engaged in the sex industry.
However, the Korea Women's Development Institute suggested that from 514,000 to 1.2 million Korean women participate in the prostitution industry.
The four main red light districts in South Korea prior to the Special Law are Cheongnyangni 588, Yongsan Station, and Mia-ri in Seoul and Jagalmadang in Daegu.
This was the result of negotiation between the Korean government and the US military, involving prostitution for United States soldiers in camp towns surrounding the US military bases.
The government registered the prostitutes who were called as Western princess and required them to carry medical certification.
Other sexual services include 가택 마사지 (gataek massaji), an "in-call" massage where the customer would travel or meet at the masseuse's home or quarters; 키스방 (kiss bang), rooms where customers pay to french kiss and fondle women; and 출장 마사지 (chuljang massaji) or an "out-call" massage where the masseuse travels to the customer's place, love motel, hotel, or another disclosed location.
According to a 2012 study by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, 3% of runaway youths have been exposed to prostitution, either as a buyer or a prostitute.
The first brothels in Korea began to spread after the country first opened its port in 1876 through a diplomatic pact, causing ethnic quarters for Japanese migrants to sprout up in Busan, Wonsan and Incheon.
From the 1960s and until today US camp town prostitution still exists outside US military bases (for example outside Camp Casey and Camp Stanley).
The US military police provide for the security in these US camp town prostitution sites and detained the prostitutes who were thought to be ill to prevent epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases.
This government involvement was in the past motivated in part by fears that the American military, which protected South Korea from North Korea, would leave.
In 2007 the government announced that sex tourism by Koreans would be made illegal, as well as Korean women going abroad to sell sex.