written by gkim
This entrance to one of the “refined” brothels which are called Room Salons or Room Bangs in the Korean community, where hostesses work (or Hobbars, where hosts work), seems to be a glass enclosure just protruding upwards from the ground. Looks a bit shady, doesn’t it? The room salons don’t all look like this, but this one caught my eye because of the entryway. It is seemingly wide and the first step you take will dip you onto a stairwell that descends downwards into a hell of a place for mostly rich male or female customers. You can’t actually see the establishment because it’s built way below the street. Why would men or women want to come to places like these? The environment and ambiance are fully catered to make every customer feel like a potentate. Because the workers who work at these places dress elegantly and are usually very persuasive and seductive–not trashy–with their language, the customers don’t feel as if they are involved in any type of misconduct with per say a street-walking prostitute.
Room salons in all over the world operate similarly to the ones in South Korea. There are chauffeurs who pick up and bring non-driving customers to these places. Also, there is always a valet attendant at the front, usually on the side. Not only does the valet attendant direct his fellow employees to park or retrieve people’s cars, he also makes sure that no “stray cats” make their way downstairs. What happens when someone reaches the bottom of this stairwell with a party of four let’s say? “ANYONGHASAYO!” (“Hello” in Korean) The front host will greet them and give them a gracious bow. They’ll be asked how many are in the party if they haven’t already called to make a reservation–which is usually the protocol. Then they’ll be ushered into a grandiose looking room that usually has plush leather seating surrounding three sides of the room. A large table is at the center and a karaoke machine attached to a television screen sits in the corner facing the seating area. Once in a while, males will bring along females but 95% of the time, men won’t bring women. Some may say that the room salon world is boring, trivial, or uncontroversial. Who doesn’t know about sexual exploitation in Asia, right? However, the room salon business makes up a huge part of the sex trafficking business industry in Korean communities all around the U.S.A. They have tiers–like a caste system of some sort where there are high-level room salons and low- level room salons. The levels are based on how beautiful and smart the women who work there are. The higher the level, the costlier it is to receive entertainment from there. These room salons are a huge problem in Korea and the States because they can easily be disguised as noraebangs (karaoke rooms). Therefore, it is much harder for them to be cited or caught as locations of trafficking. Also, because sex does not usually occur on the premises or in the rooms, it is much easier for people to believe that this is an acceptable form of entertainment or that the workers are not being coerced into doing anything. Many of the women who work here are violated every night even though they may not have sex with customers all the time.
Once the party has been seated, the host will leave, and a madam will come inside. She’ll be very beautiful and elegant looking, usually decked out in jewels and expensive clothes and shoes. She’ll chat with the party and get to know what type of business they’re in and take their order for alcohol. Now, the alcohol is ridiculously overpriced here. A bottle of whiskey that you would be able to buy for under $100 at the supermarket or liquor store would cost you anywhere from $1500 to about $2000 here. This would include a side plate of sliced fruit, water bottles, and nuts. Next, the madam will leave to fetch the room salon girls (or guys if it is a hobbar). Depending on the town, city, and country, there can be anywhere from 20-300 girls working in one night. I have seen 20 girls working in small room salons in Santa Clara, California all the way to 300 girls working in room salons in Siem Reap, Cambodia. And yes, the ones in Cambodia are Korean-owned. The madam will bring in about 4-5 girls at a time and she’ll have them line up in front of the entire party. She’ll do this until all of the available girls have been seen. Then each customer will tell the madam which girl he liked by describing her attire or telling her he liked the far right girl in the second round of girls. The madam will bring in all of the girls that have been chosen by each customer.
In the lower caste of room salons, the working girls are required to lift their skirts up as they walk inside in front of the customers. The girls are not allowed to wear undergarments. Then the males choose the girls based on what the girls look like underneath their skirts. Extremely disturbing. Even more heinous is that these lower caste room salons are popular for their “talented” girls. The girls are forced to do things such as get butt-naked on the center of the table, put knife handles up their crotches, and cut fruit using their vaginal muscles to control the knife or do other types of tricks. The humiliation these girls go through is usually met with ignorance from outsiders who hear about these acts. Most people believe that these workers are doing what they love and are not being victimized or harmed in any way.
After the customers have taken their pick of girls, they begin to drink. Each customer will have a girl beside them, pouring them drinks, feeding them fruit, starting up a conversation, and lighting cigarettes for them. If a customer requests a “band,” from the madam, a guy with a guitar will come in and play while one of the girls sing along on the karaoke machine. Oftentimes, someone will bang along on a tambourine. The parties in each room get pretty loud. Now, if a girl is very popular, she will have multiple customers across several rooms. She will have to run back and forth spending a certain amount of time with her partner in each room. One girl I met stated that she felt like a bouncing ball when she had more than two customers. She couldn’t even remember who she met the night before when she woke up the next day from her drunken stupor. When there are multiple customers at one time, the girls get sloshed off of the immense amount of alcohol they are required to consume. The customers who frequent room salons are known to be pretty touchy-feely with the girls. They’ll stick their hands into their shirts while sitting in front of everyone else and start fondling the girls. Most of the girls I interviewed were so desensitized to such touching and kissing that their facial expressions didn’t change the slightest bit when the men did this. Can you imagine sitting in a room with about five grown men just fondling girls who are dressed in decadent attire and draped in fancy jewelry and watches, and furthermore, these girls are just nonchalantly chattering away next to them as if they can’t feel anything that is happening to their bodies because they are so desensitized? These are God’s beautiful daughters whom He loves very dearly. A lot of these girls have been brainwashed, coerced through threats of shame, forced into debt bondage, or have had their passports and IDs confiscated after being trafficked across borders. The madams usually encourage the girls to drink more and go home with the customers. It is customary and usually mandatory for each customer to tip their own girl. In the US, room salon girls are usually tipped $100-$300 from each customer. Sometimes, very wealthy customers will pay off the girls’ debt with the room salon, which can be anywhere from $5000-$20,000. Usually, girls who are trafficked across borders have higher debt than Korean American girls and are trapped in peonage. Because it seems that these girls get in voluntarily to make a lot of money and sometimes drive luxurious cars and wear expensive clothing, many Koreans and others place judgement on them and assume they deserve to be oppressed, raped, violated, and mistreated. These are God’s beautiful daughters and our sisters in Christ. We must strive to bring justice on every level for the Lord instead of turning a blind eye and merely criticizing or looking down upon workers. Korean room salons in other countries such as Cambodia or Thailand operate with girls who work for tips as low as $5 per customer.
Many Korean people argue that room salons and hobbars are not hosting any illegal activities. They defend these types of hostess establishments saying it should be a person’s right to work where they want to and that sex doesn’t occur there. I wonder–would these same people care if their own daughters or sisters worked in one? Yes it is true that sex rarely occurs inside these places, but it is also true that sex is highly promoted and very encouraged for monetary exchange after hours outside of the establishment. Furthermore, these women are extremely objectified and treated as if they are for sale. These women are not given respectful treatment as men view them as their sex objects.
Who frequents these room salons? 90% of Korean American companies have had sex entertainment and hosted parties for out-of-town guests in this places. Furthermore, they are known to expense them as corporate meals and entertainment. Receipts may reflect very high amounts for one night out, however any traces of illegal activities or hostess services are not shown on them. Therefore, during audits or on expense reports, these costs are usually overlooked. Even Korean American media companies such as newspaper, radio, and television outlets have departments who go to room salons after company dinners. When crimes are committed inside or are linked to room salons they frequent, or if any suspicious activity is in question, these media outlets usually do not investigate or pursue these stories in-depth. Many of these establishments continue to conduct business by staying very publicly visible yet silently hidden at the same time.
How do we recognize room salons in cities of America? Here are some easy ways to distinguish or identify them:
- They are almost always around or in Korean communities, towns, or cities.
- They are never open for business during the day.
- They will not allow you to stay and drink with your party unless each person pays for their own individual hostess or host from that venue to entertain them for the evening–even if you bring your own date.
- If they have an actual bar, they will not serve you a drink at the bar, especially after about 10pm.
- The buildings or storefronts will have vague signage or no signage at all. There will be names on the signs with no actual description of the type of business.
- There are usually no windows on any side of the business structure, however if there are any, they are tinted to be pitch-black so that you cannot see inside at all.
- You cannot rent the rooms as a karaoke room unless you pay the extravagant price for a bottle of alcohol and pay for a hostess or host to be seated next to you.
- There will almost always be a valet attendant surrounded by many chauffeurs or illegal Korean taxi drivers.
- There will always be one room filled with girls somewhere inside, waiting to be called into rooms with customers.
- Most of the girls who work at room salons will not be able to speak English as they have been trafficked across borders.
If you are a worker wanting to get out of this industry, a person contemplating on working in a room salon, an ex-worker trying to avoid stigmatization and attacks or dealing with guilt and shame, a trafficker selling girls into the industry, a room salon owner, a taxi driver driving the girls and johns to and fro, or anyone who is associated or a supporter of the industry, please contact us. There are many people who would like to help you, pray with you, and love you in the name of Christ.
It is so important to remember that we must not support these types of businesses. Furthermore, we must not simply pass by and submit to the injustices of oppression that the girls are enduring. Doing nothing is doing something. Being silent speaks volumes. It is up to us as Christians to bring these places into the light and seek justice for Christ. We must be a voice in the Korean community and stand up for what is right. Pray that the business owners may come to know Christ and turn their businesses into places of hope for our sisters, daughters, and friends who are trapped physically, mentally, and emotionally in this industry. Lord, convict their hearts so that they will stop oppressing and selling our sisters for the love of money! Let us pray that the evil chains of slavery may be broken throughout Koreatown–the chains that link everyone together–even the ones who are not directly involved in the sex industry yet are allowing this to happen by staying silent. Finally, please be in prayer for the johns of the community who frequent these types of establishments thinking they are good environments for fun, business meetings, guest entertaining, and relaxation. Let the veil that is covering the eyes of this community be lifted away in Jesus’ name!
written by gkim
Many people and government officials argue that legalizing prostitution will solve the existing problems within the sex industry. They believe that a woman should have the right to sell her body if she wishes to do so. It’s the oldest profession in the world, and they’re legally consenting adults, they say. We can’t ever get rid of it, so might as well legalize it and provide condoms and safety for the workers. These people say they would rather have the government in control of the situation rather than the pimps, and that this gives the women more control and power.Furthermore, many girls who actually work in the industry fear they will lose their “only” source of income, so they take a very strong stance against any type of anti-prostitution activity or enforcement. Their reasoning is simply this: We are two consenting adults exchanging sex for money. We are not harming any other people in the process as long as we are practicing safe sex. This is a very skewed perception of what the sex industry and prostitution actually are. Here are seven reasons why:
I. Women who enter willingly into the sex industry do not really aspire or desire to be prostitutes. There is not one woman who is dreaming of this as her chosen profession and goal in life, fully aware of the consequences. It is usually an escape from poverty, violence, destitution, OR a lack of options in her eyes–the only way she thinks she can earn a living or maintain a type of financial stability or certain life that she desires. The woman enters thinking she will be somewhat in control. Some younger women may even verbalize that they love what they do. These typically younger women (who are not forced into the industry) try to justify their choices with a variety of different reasons such as I love sex, I’m not hurting anyone. This is my choice. Selling my body or having sex on camera is empowering. It turns me on. I love what I do. This has been my dream. I want to do this forever. These are merely public announcements. These are not the true revelations of a woman’s heart. Many of these women who enter willingly and say these things, do not enter the industry knowing the serious ramifications of what will happen to her. It is difficult to say that a woman would seek a lifestyle of selling sex for money if she knew that there was a 100% chance she would lose complete power over her life and be subjugated to humiliation, shame, rape, physical and mental abuse, torture, threats, corruption, sexually transmitted diseases, guilt, depression, or drug addictions. Almost 99% of women who have been rescued from the sex industry and women who have left on their own will have reiterated that they have been suppressed to one or more of these consequences. These thoughts will surely occur to her, but she enters thinking this will not happen to her or that she will be able to avoid it. She will quickly find out that she is trapped once she enters– trapped by the pimp, trafficker, or brothel owner. When people believe that prostitutes have chosen this life because they want to do it or because they were just born as whores, they are being deceived. All of these women are God’s precious daughters. The world may turn their backs on them, but God does not. It is up to us to help them see that they are loved.
2. Just because she is free to come and go physically, it does not mean anything, and we must remember that many are truly held from physical escape. The strongest hold on a prostitute is the mental entrapment that will dominate her life. Traffickers, pimps, and brothel owners will stop at nothing to turn a profit. One of the most common misconceptions that people have of prostitutes is that they can walk away at any time, yet they are choosing to stay in it. We must remember that almost 75% of girls who get into the industry do so as minors. Although the example I am about to give is not one of a voluntary prostitute, this is a perfect example of how one human being can influence and intimidate a young girl. Elizabeth Smart, a victim of abduction and sex slavery, was approached by police just a few months into her abduction.
She had the chance to speak up and reveal her identity, yet she was terrified that her abductors would kill her and then go after her family. She believed this with all of her heart, so she stayed quiet, and the police officer departed without suspecting anything. This type of mental control is carried out every second of the day by traffickers and pimps who view girls as their commodities. As I have said in another blog entry, don’t be fooled by smiling prostitutes. Giving a woman the right to sell her body is not giving them any type of right or freedom at all. In fact, it is the opposite of doing so.
3. Legalizing prostitution is accepting and allowing women and children of all ages to choose this as a legitimate profession. If we legalize prostitution, we are telling our sons and daughters that they can turn to prostitution as a career option when they become adults. In places like Isaan, Thailand, many children as young as five years old imagine themselves as prostitutes when they are older because it’s what they grow up seeing, and it appears to be an acceptable way to earn a living. If we do not want our own daughters to become prostitutes or become victims of trafficking, we certainly must NOT succumb to the ridiculous notion that legalizing it is better than prohibiting it. We are throwing our hands up in the air if we do this. We must strive for God’s justice to reign throughout the world no matter how difficult the fight may be or how long it may take.
4. Legalizing prostitution is not giving the government more power to oversee and protect the women. This expands the sex industry so much that it gets harder for the government to retrieve statistics and differentiate between minors and adults. Child trafficking sees an influx. It makes it acceptable for government workers to pay for sex, and it gives legal power to the pimp, trafficker, or brothel owner to become legitimate businessmen and entrepreneurs. It becomes harder for the government to provide assistance because a type of desensitization to the plight of these women occurs. Once it is legalized, new corruptions within the structure of the government evolves as they are essentially becoming the pimps. The society becomes more misogynistic. Right becomes indistinguishable from wrong. Devious and sexual acts become acceptable, and the women who are selling their bodies become subjugated to these types of acts. Additionally, there are already so many governments in the world that participate in sex tourism and sex entertainment. Corruption in such governments will increase and will not be deemed as corruption. In places like Thailand and Korea where the existing laws against prostitution aren’t enforced properly, women are forced to entertain men by engaging in deviance such as tricks with their genital muscles. Sex tourism booms in these countries, and more and more tourists who are exposed become accustomed to them and perceive them as entertainment. Imagine these types of acts becoming completely legal and protected by the law. Boundaries will become blurred and obsolete. Women will be exposed to more and more atrocity and promiscuity which will affect society as a whole.
5. Prostitution is a mask for human trafficking. The two are essentially one. If prostitution is legalized, the mask becomes thicker, and it will be able to morph into a number of different faces. Stats from countries with legalized or regulated prostitution such as Germany, Colombia, or the Netherlands have shown that human trafficking, especially of minors, has increased dramatically. The reason why prostitution can be identifiable with human trafficking is that most prostitutes who enter willingly or fight for the right to sell their bodies are so influenced, controlled, and overpowered by their pimps that they cannot leave the industry when they want to. Whether it is through mental control and brainwashing or through physical violence, these prostitutes are enslaved and kept in bondage. Most people associate bondage with a mental image of a person in chains somewhere in a dark room. This is of course the case with many, but in many cases, this is not the only type of bondage and enslavement. Many women believe that they are selling their bodies when in fact they are selling parts of their souls. They think they’re in control when they are not. Many enter voluntarily or are tricked into working and the majority cannot leave and live the lives they want to. Everything inside a human that is vital to leading a decent life in society diminishes and eventually becomes obsolete. Those who are rescued or escape from it will be internally affected for the rest of their lives. Most never come out in public, choosing to keep their stories hidden, sometimes even from their own families and husbands. Traffickers would love legalization as they would be able to hide the girls they traffick much easier. Do we really want to hand them more batons?
6. The aftermath of prostitution is horrendous. People who have sold their bodies for money become traumatized forever. Many end up committing suicide, addicted to drugs or alcohol, depressed, suffering from anxiety, and coping with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Ex-prostitutes have expressed that pieces of their souls were sold along with their bodies. The majority who do make it out of the industry have difficulties assimilating back into society because they are ridden with intense shame or stigmatized as whores. The amount of rehabilitation and health recovery is monstrous.
7. Countries that have legalized prostitution see an overall decrease in humanity, spirituality, honor, and respect in their societies. At the same time, the oppression and objectification of women as sexual objects and the permissiveness of men buying women for sex increases ten-fold. If prostitution is legalized, it becomes a business that can be marketed. The marketing would be directed not only towards men who were already interested in paying for sex but to men who would never even consider paying for sex. We condone this type of behavior if we legalize it. This leads to a decline and neglect in sanctity, values, and gender equality.
Prostitution is not something that should be regulated or legalized ever.
Love Neighbors Mission is an extraordinary church and justice ministry founded and led by Pastor Sun Choi in South Korea. They strive to love our neighbors as God wishes for us to do so. Their mission is to convey the love of Jesus Christ to souls who have been neglected and ignored by society–particularly those who work in the red light districts in Seoul, Daegu, and Busan. Pastor Choi started this ministry in March of 2010 in Cheongryangri Yunrakga, one of the most infamous and frequented red light districts in Asia.
God had spoken to Pastor Choi and revealed His undying love for the prostituting sisters who worked in this area. Thus Pastor Choi obeyed the calling from God and started going on-site to Cheongryangri Yunrakga to conduct on-site snack and gift delivery. He and his wife wrapped each snack and gift carefully with letters of scripture–all to give these precious girls messages of hope and love. Rain, snow, sleet, or shine–Pastor Choi went to the red light districts weekly, and these relationships that seemed so impossible to build in the beginning, began to form.
On August 22, 2011, Pastor Choi was blessed with an office space adjacent to the red light district, and he opened it to the working girls as a shelter and haven from the dark sex industry. In 2013, Love Neighbors Mission expanded their ministry to the some of the darkest red light districts to exist in Korea–in an area of Daegu. With wrapped gifts and scriptures in hand, Pastor Choi has never missed a day of outreach or spreading the gospel to the sisters of these alleys. Take a look at this sign on the left. It states that children are restricted from this red light district alley–in the Korean language. How ironic is it that there is an official, governmental warning sign when prostitution is illegal in the first place?
These sisters have expressed that it is like being in hell because there is no escape out of the red light district. Although some of these women may physically leave, they are imprisoned from doing so because of their emotional, spiritual, and mental bondage. There are grandmothers who live in the red light districts as well. These senior citizens say they pray for a way to leave, a change, new hope, a life outside of this world, but they feel there is no way after decades of being in this industry. Many of these women express that they would like a church to go to where they will feel no shame and only acceptance. Pastor Choi goes behind these glass windows and gives them a time of worship where they are selling their bodies. Why does he do this? He is most concerned for their salvation. Without salvation, they will not be able to return to a normal life or function in society with the rest of the world after enduring what they have. It took a very long time and a lot of immense effort for Pastor Choi to open up these girls’ hearts to what he was trying to convey. Some of them were even able to leave thanks to his tireless and tremendous efforts. There is a special sister who works with him now to get other girls out.
At first, the pimps were very suspicious and distrustful of Pastor Choi, but as time went by, God’s love broke barriers through Pastor Choi’s dedication. The pimps started to make coffee for him when he came by on his weekly gift offerings. He would accept the coffee so that he may have the chance to pray for them. He realized that the pimps and traffickers were undeniably victims as well, victims of evil and corruption.
“It takes a very long time and lots of patience to build relationships and trust with the sisters,” Pastor Choi said. However he is grateful and thankful that he is able to do God’s work and help even one sister get out of the industry after an entire year of outreach and efforts. This is how devoted he is to these sisters, how devoted he is to serving the Lord, and how much he desperately seeks for them to know that God views them as His precious daughters. Many people view these girls as despicable and undeserving. However we must all remember that the people God loves the most are the ones who are neglected the most–the victimized, the abused, the poor, the sick, the homeless, the injured, the trafficked, the widowed, and the orphaned.
“learn to do good;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.” Isaiah 1:17