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The sex trade involved some 94 million transactions in , down from million in The amount of money traded for prostitution was over 14 trillion won, much less than 24 trillion won in Before the modernization of Korea, there were no brothels , but a caste of the women for the elite landholding classes performed sexual labor.
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 Western princesses , and required them to carry medical certification. The US military police provided 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 , the Korean Ministry of Gender Equality announced that , 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 , to 1. In , the South Korean government passed an anti-prostitution law Special Law on Sex Trade prohibiting the buying and selling of sex and shutting down brothels.
The people responsible for this policy claimed that they want to put an end to a culture in which men get drunk at parties and go on to buy sex. In the government announced that sex tourism by Koreans would be made illegal, as well as Korean women going abroad to sell sex. The courts prosecuted 35, clients , 2. Following the enactment of the Special Law in , there was a crackdown on red-light districts ; while many of the brothels in those areas were forced to close, the crackdown went as quickly as it came, with the result that prostitution was driven more underground but also became a more competitive business with lower prices and more services.
Red light districts in South Korea can compare to those of Amsterdam and Germany. While not all of them are operating to full capacity, some still exist while being tolerated not only due to the vast amount of money that is involved in the business, but also in an attempt to control the sex industry. According to United Voice for Eradication of Prostitution, these teen prostitutes are exposed to such crimes as rape and diseases as syphilis.