Youth Prostitution Prevention Project

Date 2014-06-11 Category Woman & Welfare Updater scaadmin
Last Update


Citizen participation-oriented Youth Prostitution Prevention Project through regional networks


Establishing the Self-Empowerment School for teen prostitutes (2009)

The Seoul Metropolitan Government organized a task force team in 2009 consisting of relevant experts, professors, and shelter supervisors to seek advice on how to run the Self-Empowerment School. Seoul was also planned the details of the Project based on focus group interviews. Thanks to such efforts, Korea’s first Self-Empowerment School was opened in September 2009.

A second Self-Empowerment School and job training shop opened (2010)

Encouraged by the success of the Self-Empowerment School established in 2009, the Seoul Metropolitan Government decided to open another school in an economically marginalized section of the city. Seoul secured a building for the school in the northern section of Seoul, and opened its second Self-Empowerment School. In 2010, Seoul opened a restaurant-cum-cafe on public land to help the school graduates gain financial independence through learning skills and job training. 

Establishing a system that starts from prevention to early intervention to self-empowerment (2010) 

The Seoul Metropolitan Government has been running a late night street counseling service since 2001 to intervene early in the lives of runaway teenagers to prevent teenage prostitution. Teenage girls on the streets were led to shelters and later guided into education and employment through the Self-Empowerment School and the Self-Empowerment Training Shop. By building a system that begin with prevention to early intervention to self-empowerment, the government was able to help teenage women achieve independence and break free from prostitution.


The Seoul Metropolitan Government launched the Youth prostitution Prevention Project to provide practical means of empowerment to these women and to prevent prostitution. This Project helps these girls strengthen their character to gain control of their life, and supporting their education and employment so that they can stand on their own.


Jump in teenage prostitution in aftermath of global economic crisis

Korea has experienced the repercussions of the Asian financial crisis and global economic stagnation over the past decade. Unstable socio-economic conditions have weakened the family’s caring function, and many neglected teenagers have dropped out of school and gone on to the streets. It is estimated that every year there are around 200,000 runaways, most of whom are actually trying to escape from a difficult home environment. One out of every four of these youngsters ends up in the sex industry. 

In a country where the internet penetration rate is very high, online-chatting serves as a catalyst to the growth of private prostitution. However, most of these girls are unaware that they are ‘selling sex’. They view what they do as a part-time job for food and shelter for the day, distinguishing it in their minds from prostitution in brothels. Neither is the rest of Korean society aware that such a practice is often the first step to various forms of adult prostitution. 

Lack of social safety net for runaway teenage girls

The problem of teenage runaways and teenage prostitution can’t be resolved simply by bringing them back to their families. Even when they are caught by the police and returned to their homes, they run away again because of the unstable family conditions. Then a vicious cycle starts over again as they once again resort to prostitution to get them through the day. Considering Korea’s high school admission rate of 99% and college admission rate of 82%, these runaway girls stand little chance of starting a new life. Until recently, the only welfare service available to these girls provided by the Seoul Metropolitan Government was temporary shelters, which did little to resolve these problems. Even services offering “protection” and “guidance” do not fulfill teenage girls’ desires and are shunned by them. The girls return to their street life. A new strategy and approach are now needed to prevent teenagers who are exposed to prostitution from becoming adult prostitutes. 


Trial Strategy

The Youth Prostitution Prevention Project’s central strategy is not characterized by such concepts as “protection” and “guidance” but rather by leading these girls towards “self-empowerment”. 

1. To build a continuous system for self-empowerment consisting of education and employment. 

The majority of runaway teenage are school dropouts. For these girls in their late teens (18-19 years old) without middle school degree, there are hardly any schools they can go to even if they want to. They also have almost no chance of finding any stable employment. In response, Seoul established a Self-Empowerment School where they can get their degrees regardless of age. Seoul also established a Self-Empowerment Training Shop where these women can find jobs after they get their degrees – ensuring a continuous self-empowerment system that they can depend on. The Youth Prostitution Prevention Project builds the foundation for self-empowerment for teenage women who have fallen object to prostitution and provides them a turning point which prevents them from becoming adult prostitutes. 


2. To help these women break free from prostitution through tailored services 

Most runaway teenage girls do not know the alphabet or multiplication table even in their late teens. So the Self-Empowerment School relies on one-on-one tutoring tailored to the different education levels of the women to help them get their degrees. The school also offers basic classes in finance to break their habit of earning and spending of 100,000-200,000 won at a time. Also, through gender-cognitive sexuality education, these women learn to value their bodies and to change their previous attitude that condones selling sex for money. Such tailored self-empowerment services help strengthen their willpower to quit prostitution and begin a new life.

3. Effectiveness of cooperation with NGO’s, government, and academia : building gender governance infrastructure

The Seoul Metropolitan Government has been operating a separate organization dedicated to teenage women pdlicies since for the past decade. This team consists of government employees and contract-based temporary government employees with expert knowledge in women’s studies, welfare, teenager studies, and feminist philosophy. This team works flexibly and in close partnership with NGO’s as it has an independent office (Seoul Resource Center for Young Women) located 4 miles from City Hall. Because of their identities as both teenagers and female, teenage women are not only easily left behind in policy-making but also do not have many social organizations that can represent their interests. Nevertheless, the Seoul Metropolitan Government boldly placed them in a strategic category of affirmative action to help them grow into the next-generation female citizens through Projects grounded in gender cognitive perspectives.

4. Active Citizen Participation and Utilization of Community Networks

The problem of youth prostitution is not a problem arising from individuals’ moral defects or choices, but rather one of social structures. Therefore, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has chosen the strategy of inducing active citizen participation and the active utilization of community networks. 

A one-on-one mentoring program in which local residents and college students serve as volunteers is being implemented to improve the view of teenage runaways and prostitutes. In addition, famous entertainers (such as Park Kyung-rim and Yoo Ji-tae) are working as “dream mentors” for the independence schools with the aim of inducing the active participation of the public. Also, hospitals, beauty parlors, restaurants, and children’s centers within the communities have joined the network to provide vocational experience and internship opportunities. These organizations meet regularly in meetings and informal discussion sessions to identify and define the roles of the community in helping at-risk teenage girls. These community networks are providing a great impetus toward building a social safety net for at-risk youths. 


Obstacles And Overcome Method

1. Negative perception among local residents : finding solution in cooperation with district government

The Seoul Metropolitan Government’s effort to find a building for the Self-Empowerment School faced a lot of difficulty because of the negative attitude toward victims of teenage prostitution among the local residents. Since the school would be located in an economically backward district, residents feared that building school would reinforce the negative reputation of the area. In response, with the help of the district governments, officials from the Seoul Metropolitan Government directly met with the residents to convince them of the need for the school. Such efforts were enough to create a new perception of the school among the local residents, and the school was able to flourish through the local community network.

2. Stigma against teenage runaways and prostitutes : securing internship positions through mentoring agreement with companies

Students of the Self-Empowerment School need internships but it was difficult to find such positions. Many companies did not accept these students because they were once ‘runaway teenagers and prostitutes’ or ‘delinquent teenagers’. In response, Seoul Metropolitan Government went about various institutions to convince them of the importance of job experience for these women. Thanks to such efforts, students were given a chance to work at day care centers and welfare centers run by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, and success cases were publicized. Later, students were able to apply for internships and other work experiences thanks to mentoring agreements that the government signed with large companies such CJ Food-vill and SK-Telecom. 

3. Problem with drop-outs : adopting a system in which the teenage women make the plans and decisions 

The biggest concern in the beginning was that the students would lose interest in learning and drop out. In response, the school gave students the autonomy and responsibility to set their own rules through weekly student council meetings. Also, in the Training Shop, the teenage women were the ones to make decisions regarding the restaurant name, menu etc. so that it would be a place which is run by them. This inspired the women to take responsibility in their work and participate actively.


Used Resources

1. Stable funding through matching fund arrangement the central government

The Seoul Metropolitan Government provided most of the funding of the Self-Empowerment School when it first opened in 2009. The NGO which was entrusted with the management of the school shared the cost, but it was small. The Seoul Metropolitan Government provided the land and buildings and operating costs, as well as the teachers’ salaries. As the benefits of the Self-Empowerment School became visible and its needs justified, the central government agreed to a 50:50 matching fund arrangement from 2011 which will help secure more stable funding. 

2. Technical support: Information exchange through the homepage and making use of company job mentors

In line with high internet usage among teenage women, the school regularly updates its homepage and operates a system where women can make inquires and get responses. Once a month, a web magazine is sent out to 4,000 people to raise people’s awareness of the policies for teenage women. Also, through an agreement with companies, job consulting in areas of interest for teenage women (hair dresser, cook, nurse, etc.) is provided in cooperation with job mentors. 

3. Human resources: Building partnerships with court, colleges etc. 

First, Seoul holds regular consultations on guiding teenage women caught for prostitution to the Self-Empowerment Schools and other post-management issues with judicial institutions such as the court, the National Police Agency and probation offices. Judges, government officials in charge, school teachers and probation officers regularly meet to ensure that the teenage women at the school complete education. Second, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has built a network of NGOs, government and academia representatives and hosted monthly case conferences. Heads of women’s shelters, scholars, government officials and school teachers participate in the conferences to identify best approaches for teenage women. Third, Seoul is making use of college student volunteers in cooperation with colleges. The Self-Empowerment Schools form links with local colleges and holds one-on-one mentor-mentee matching classes with student volunteers to encourage teenage women to enjoy learning and earn diplomas.


Educational benefits -in middle and high-school graduation qualification exams, ‘pass’ of  96% 

In the Self-Empowerment School, each student is given individualized consideration, resulting in ‘pass’ of 96% in middle and high-school graduation qualification exams. “It was the first time in my life that I felt proud of myself. Now that I have earned my diploma, I am confident that I can meet new challenges.” (An interview with a Self-Empowerment School student)

Economic benefits – college, employment, professional certificates

Graduates from the Self-Empowerment School either go on to college or get employed. Economic benefits are very important to them and teenagers employed at the Self-Empowerment Training Shops are becoming role models for women who are trying to escape prostitution. “My goal is to learn what I can from this store and later become Korea’s best barista” (An interview with a staff member of the Self-Empowerment Training Shop). 

Psychological benefits – building self-esteem through emotional support and experiencing success 

Teenage girls who have been exposed to long periods of violence received continuous counseling and participated in different Projects. These women built their self-esteem and character by getting diplomas and gaining financial independence, which gave them the inner strength to break free from prostitution


Raising the Image of the City and Improving National Competitiveness – Youth Prostitution Prevention Project 

Prostitution remains a huge pressing issue for diverse nations, cities, and communities. Globally, as prostitution through the Internet becomes ever more prevalent, its modes of entry are diversifying and the age of exposure to prostitution is becoming lower. Prostitution raises the possibility of exposure to other types of crime such as sexual violence, human trafficking, and illegal drugs, and, as a result, raises the societal costs of nations and cities. In addition, the notoriety of “exporters of female prostitutes”, “sex tours”, and other names associated with prostitution damages the image of those nations and cities, thereby reducing their competitiveness. And, as runaway teenage prostitutes are especially highly prone to becoming adult prostitutes, it is very urgent that policies at the national and city level be set up and supported in order to preven teenage prostitutes from being pushed back into prostitution. 

Early intervention : core strategy to protect teenagers from adult prostitution

The Youth Prostitution Prevention Project was able to receive positive response from society because of Seoul’s early intervention in helping teenage women with high risks of prostitution. Most of these women ended up in prostitution without a clear conceptualization of what prostitution is. However, the Seoul Metropolitan Government did not brand them as sex offenders. Instead, it provided them with an opportunity to break away from prostitution and empower themselves through the self-empowerment support Project. Unlike adult prostitutes, teenage girls had the resilience to overcome such risks and the unlimited potential to build a new life with their strength and will. 

 Based on a decade of experience in street counseling and prostitution prevention education, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has developed a Youth Prostitution Prevention Project for teenage women at risk. As a result, new method of self-empowerment were developed such as the Self-Empowerment School and the Self-Empowerment Training Shop through which teenage women can be prevented from returning to prostitution and stand on their own. Thanks to such efforts made by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, these women who once wandered the streets are now given wings with which to they can fly towards their goals and dreams.






Department / Contact

  • International Relations Division  /  82-2-2133-5264  /  international@seoul.go.kr
  • Megacity Research Center  /  82-2-2149-1418  /  ssunha@si.re.kr