Seoul’s red light districts, like the Seoul sex industry in general, have always been oriented to a local customer base. Any non-Korean who has ventured through any of Seoul’s many red light districts with the exception of Hooker Hill can confirm that many sex workers in South Korea are simply uninterested in entertaining guys from other countries.
The reasons for this rejection of non-Koreans range from xenophobia to a fear of over sized penises and sexual disease. Perhaps the biggest motivation for rejecting foreigners has always been that many Korean guys do not want to visit sex workers who have been “tainted” by having sex with men who do not hail from the land of the morning calm.
While the majority of sex shops in Seoul have a habit of refusing foreigners all together at least some of the women working in red light districts have historically welcomed non-Korean customers at least when they were no other Korean customers within eyeshot.
In at least one part of town Koreans and foreign customers alike are no longer able to purchase sexual services at the 588 red light district since it has been totally shut down. After years of rumors and speculation the sex shops have finally been shuttered to make way for the construction of some high rise apartments. It’s not equality under the law, but Koreans and foreigners now have to deal with the same situation.
The shut down came after real estate developers instilled cameras in the area and armed thugs reportedly intimidated the sex workers in the district and trashed their workplaces.
The government has not helped the many sex workers forced out of 588. This was not always the case. An earlier government was involved with creating windowed fronts in the district in the run up to the Seoul Olympics. The idea was taken from red light districts like De Wallen in Amsterdam and was part of a beautification campaign. Prostitution has since been officially outlawed in South Korea.
When one senior member of a sex workers’ association was asked where the women from 588 would end up, he said “some went to red-light districts in other parts of the country… Others probably went to find jobs at room salons, karaoke bars and massage parlors“.