My Sister’s Place (두레방 Durebang ), a Rescue Shelter for Foreign Sex Workers in South Korea [part 2]

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written by gkim

[Continuing on from part 1]

durebangThere are many hurdles Soo Mee Park has to overcome in order to continue fighting for the rights of these foreign victims as well as to pursue the traffickers who control the human trafficking market geared towards the foreign presence in Korea such as the US army and the foreign corporations. As previously mentioned, Durebang is currently dealing with 20 cases. It is a small number compared to how many victims there are, however it is a large number compared to the reluctant women who do not want to come forward. Most of these foreign women are too scared to tell their stories due to fear of public shame, They are worried about how they would find witnesses to corroborate their testimonies, how anyone would believe them, how they would actually sue these pimps, and how they could trust the government in a foreign land where they aren’t fluent in the language. Many of these women come from countries with corrupt governments, so placing trust in authority figures is unfathomable to them. The pimps in Korea threaten and brainwash them until they believe that they will never have a chance at winning such cases in a court of Korean law. This is not to say that absolutely no women have tried to sue these pimps and traffickers. However the ones who have tried have become even more victimized than they already were before. Victims who have courageously come forward and told their stories have been referred to and described as prostitutes when the verdicts are read. They are stigmatized in the courts, and their reputations are damaged. They become even greater victims after taking legal measures. This discourages and repels other women from coming forward. The traffickers are also fully aware that there will be more damage done to the girls than to them if these girls decided to come out into the open and tell their stories. Therefore, these traffickers have a very brazen attitude. If Korean people in general had a higher awareness and a mightier, more systematic approach, there would have been more positive results in the past with these types of cases.

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Some positive things that have resulted from Soo Mee Park and Durebang‘s immense efforts is that there have been more bans on the entrance of US soldiers into “juicy bars” or clubs that have been caught or known to be soliciting sex. These bans actually drive the money-hungry Korean bar and club owners to protest to the Korean government, demanding that the government help them lift these “unnecessary” bans. There is also a visible change in the attitudes of the Korean immigration officers who are starting to view these foreign women as victims and not as violators of the law. They’re beginning to grasp the gravity of the situation and the plight of these victims a little better. Currently, new laws are being proposed as well. Durebang is fighting for harsher punishments for traffickers who bring these foreign women into the country or the pimps who operate the industry in the country. They are fighting for stricter laws on human trafficking as investigators have supported zero cases of human trafficking in the past. The traffickers and pimps have only been fined for encouraging prostitution, not for trafficking people into the country. And these fines are nothing compared to how much money the foreign women can bring in for the brothels, clubs, and bars. Durebang‘s dedicated workers are fighting for the lives of these foreign women and for the abolition of sex trafficking every single day. Not only are they helping these women from other countries fight for justice, they are also caring for the elderly sex slaves from the Korean War in Uijeongbu as well. What sets Durebang apart from other organizations in Korea that fight against sex trafficking is that it is the only rescue shelter that fights entirely for foreign victims ONLY.

Getting back to the story from part 1 regarding the Colombian woman. She was actually much more aware of human trafficking and had more knowledge of it than some of the workers at Durebang because of the fact that the awareness campaigns for human and sex trafficking were so strong in her home country. Thus, she was able to realize that she was a victim even though she had come to Korea fully aware that she would be selling her body. This is why she contacted the embassy herself. She is not the only one to contact the embassy in Korea either. Many women have tried after they have been forced into sex slavery. But in Korea, it is extremely hard to be viewed as a victim of sex trafficking. The authorities will ask them how they were able to call if they were held against their will. Then on the other end of the spectrum, when women run away from these brothels after a period of time and seek the embassy, the authorities will ask them why they didn’t risk their lives and try to contact them sooner if they were really in eminent danger.

What happens to victims after they have been rescued or after lawsuits? Durebang must encourage them to return to their own countries. A few problems have arisen with this as well. Some of the women have dire circumstances in their home countries and wish to stay in Korea. So when it has been time for them to go to the airport, they have disappeared. They are still somewhere in Korea. However these cases are so few that even the government officials know exactly how many and who these women are. This has caused rifts between Durebang and the Ministry of Justice in Korea. The Ministry of Justice has said, “We have clearly helped their cases out. So why are these women trying to stay here now?”

The US government is extremely conscious of these happenings, and they are very strict with bans on locations, curfews for soldiers, as well as having official campaigns to make sure the soldiers aren’t participating or entering any part of the sex industry in South Korea. Their off-limit orders are usually obeyed by the army as well. However there are always those few cases that make it passed the law and surface later. The brothel owners and traffickers are fully aware that these orders are from the US government and not the Korean government, so there is quite a widespread anti-US sentiment among these “businessmen.” As we are reminded that there are different types of foreign trafficking happening in the country of Korea as well as around the world, we must also remember that according to the Korean Institute of Criminology, one-fifth of Korean men buy sex at least four times a month, and Korean men make up the largest ethnic group to seek child prostitutes in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Furthermore, this type of foreign trafficking is just a part of the sex industry in Korea. Room salons, massage parlors, image rooms, kissing rooms, red light districts, and brothels filled with Korean girls litter the nation. When asked if there were native Korean girls working around the camptowns, Soo Mee Park said that there were some, but not nearly as many compared to the places that are not around the camptowns.

My Sister's PlaceWhat’s next on Soo Mee Park‘s agenda? She will be meeting with the government about the controversial E-6 (“entertainment”) visas on September 6, 2013. Immediate termination of the E-6 visas would damage the victims who currently hold these visas in the country including the legitimate holders of these visas as well. This would further victimize any foreigners who hold this visa and are residing in Korea. Instead, they are looking for better solutions such as more awareness on this issue of human trafficking from a global perspective. Abolitionists such as SooMee Park go through difficulties and must fight against walls that do no seem to budge for years. Sometimes her hopes and passions fluctuate due to such obstacles she has to face. What helps her to continue her work,, she says, is that she sees these women every day. She is not someone who is passing by or writing a thesis for school on trafficking. For her, it is everyday reality. God bless Soo Mee Park. Please say a prayer for her upcoming meeting! (English Site)

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