Magdalena House, the first center in Korea for prostitutes, started humbly, in 1985, in one room that lacked even a bathroom, on the second floor of a restaurant. Profiled by the Peace Weekly in their series on Catholic Women Groups, Magdalena House was founded by a Maryknoll Sister and a laywoman, with the help of the Seoul Catholic Women's Social Welfare Association. Though the center had an inconspicuous start, for the women who had no place to go, it was a welcome oasis among a generally hostile environment. It was a place where they found respect and could begin to build a new life, a place that gave them the courage to dream and was more welcoming than the home of their parents, where some would have to go to have their first child.
Magdalena House gave hope to these unfortunate women, who, it must be remembered, were no less made in the image of God. They were encouraged at the center to work on their strong points and against the stigma they were branded with by society.
The center was named after Magdalena of the gospels, a person who was freed of seven devils by Jesus. She loved and was loved by Jesus and given the privilege of being the first to see him after the resurrection. The center was intended to give the women selling sex a dream that their life could change if that was their desire.
Women could come to the center for counseling and for legal and medical help. A literacy program was also set up for those living in the Yongsan area who were in the sex trade, as well as for other poor women. The center was also available as a shelter for the old and handicapped women who had lived as sex workers.
Since many societal voices were heard wanting to put an end to the sex trade, a number of groups and individuals got together in the One Voice Movement to try to stop the trade in 1985. In 1999, a documentary on the sex trade was made with the help of a woman's club, under the auspices of the President; Magdalena House contributed to the film.
In addition to the in-house programs, the center began programs in field work for those women who were still active on the streets, and for those who were not. Increasingly, efforts were made to prevent young women from entering the trade and to counsel those who had run away from home.
Magdalene House also gives lectures and publishes material on spirituality that focuses on helping to change the thinking of those in the sex trade. Their hope for the center is to ultimately have a place for those who have left the trade and are looking for a place to stay, a home, as they prepare to go out to a new way of life.