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
written by gkim
[Continuing on from part 1]
There 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.
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.
What’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!
http://durebang.org/ (English Site) http://durebang.org/?page_id=5231
written by gkim
I am still in awe that I got to meet one of the most amazing women in Korea a couple of weeks ago. At the same time, I am deeply saddened and troubled after learning about the type of sex trafficking she deals with on a daily basis. As we all know, there are so many different types of trafficking and sex slavery going on in all parts of Korea at any given time, but her story shed a new light on a type of sex trafficking that I did not know existed in this country. Her name is Soo Mee Park, and she runs the one and only rescue trafficking shelter in Korea that solely supports foreign sex slaves in numerous parts of Korea, especially those around the US army bases.
Her center, Durebang, also known as My Sister’s Place, is a NGO, and it is a light in the darkest industry in South Korea–that of sex trafficking. Durebang helps and specializes in rescuing foreign women in prostitution with various backgrounds and different challenges, particularly those who are/were related with US soldiers stationed in the country. Soo Mee Park wants these women to find hope, self-respect, and a new sense of life. This center was founded in March 1986 in Uijeongbu, Korea. Currently, in Uijeongbu, they take care of a large number of senior citizens who were forced into prostitution for the US army during the Korean War and are now ailing grandmothers. A second location was opened in Pyeongtaek in 2009, which is a crucial locale because many US military soldiers have been and are still being relocated to this area today. This means many women have and will subsequently follow them. Durebang fights for the respect, integrity and equality of the women working in the US clubs on Korean soil and for the eradication of prostitution in militarism and its consequential problems. For that purpose Durebang has assisted and accompanied dozens of foreign women who have been forced into sex slavery.
The majority of the women Soo Mee Park comes into contact with are from the Philippines, however there is a diversity of foreign women among these sex slaves. They have immigrated to Korea with legal E-6 entertainment visas to work around the camptowns (areas around the US army bases in Korea). These women who are called “entertainers” are not real singers or performers as their visas classify them to be. They are actually filling in the empty positions that have been left by forced sex slaves and prostitutes from the time of the Korean War. These E-6 visas are extremely problematic, and furthermore, the Korean government is fully aware of how these visas are being utilized. The authorities do nothing to intervene…they speak rules that they do not enforce. So although the law against prostitution and the trafficking of women exists in Korea, there is no law which protects the vulnerable victims of the sex industry. Also, the law that is in place against prostitution and its perpetrators is not enforced properly, therefore traffickers and pimps are given more control and power while the sex slaves become more victimized. Bottom line: the Korean law doesn’t help victims, and the government doesn’t believe that this type of law would be functional. Even if there is a law, it’s almost impossible for the sex slaves to sue their traffickers. It is extremely complicated to fight for the rights of Korean women who have been trafficked and that much more harder for foreigners. This ties in with the physical aspect of trafficking where people are physically forced into the country, the psychological side where people have been persuaded or tricked into coming, and the reality that some women are completely aware and agreeable to prostituting themselves. Because the government finds it imperative to distinguish the ways the women have entered the sex industry in Korea, there is a lack in urgency to investigate thoroughly or assist these women. Yes, the difficulty to differentiate between how the foreign and some native women were trafficked into the industry is a reality, however it seems that this has also become a blatant excuse for the government to ignore the plight of these victims, brush it off their agendas, and treat all of them as violators of the law rather than victims of human trafficking.
In order to rescue and ensure the safety of these women, identifying the establishments that recruit and enslave these women is crucial. The volunteers go out to the juicy bars (bars where foreign girls are enslaved as sex workers) and brothels. All of the women Durebang works with are in or around the army bases or rural areas with heavy foreign presence. Pyongtaek is one of the lands as described in the latter. 15% of the land in Pyongtaek has been put aside by law for foreign enterprises, Native Koreans are not allowed to build on this land. Many of the buildings there have huge international signs with hundreds of foreign employees. In places like Pyongtaek, the clients of the sex industry can vary in ethnicity from all over the world. Around the army bases however, the men who frequent these “clubs” are generally from the US army regardless of the bans on juicy bars, and such clubs. We must also keep in mind that in Korea, Korean men are the number one clients of prostitutes. According to the Korean Institute of Criminology, one-fifth of Korean men buy sex at least four times a month.
Currently, there are 20 ongoing cases that Durebang is handling. This may sound like just a handful, however gathering sufficient evidence, facts, documents, and testimonies for even one case is extremely difficult and time-consuming due to the authoritarian and legalistic roadblocks. SooMee Park shared a story about a very unique case. Although many of the women in the Korean sex industry have been coerced, there are some who knowingly get into the business as well. Case in point: There was a young woman who was a prostitute from Colombia, where prostitution is legalized and where there is a level of protection for the prostitutes. There are even campaigns to advocate condom usage. This woman worked independently selling her body. She was able to decide when, where, how…and condoms were always used per her decision. This is not to say that prostitution should be considered a career to be pursued in any way. Once she was recruited by the trafficker, who glamorized the “entertainment” industry for the American soldiers in Korea saying that she would make 10x more, and subsequently put on a plane, she quickly found herself in a situation that was completely different from the one she was in back home. She had no say or power in when, where, or how. She was forced to sell her body when she didn’t want to. She was forced to have sex without condoms. She was also repeatedly raped by her traffickers and abused when she tried to protest. This woman, having come from a country where the law protected the prostitutes’ rights, decided to call the authorities in Korea and report her situation. This is when her problems escalated even more. When they inquired if she knew she would be coming to Korea to sell her body, she unknowingly answered yes. She was not aware that prostitution was illegal in Korea. Finally, when she was rescued, she was treated as a violator of the law and threatened with deportation back to her own country even though she had been raped and forced into sex work at times she did not consent. They even questioned how she was able to contact the authorities if she was really in bondage and enslaved. The government views are that these women want to get Korean citizenship through the E-6 visa and marry American soliders in order to live the “American Dream.” It seems to me that these are their public views which help them sleep at night…but in reality, they are fully aware of what is happening. This type of sex trafficking is just one type of the many sex trafficking outlets in Korea and around the world.
I have received and read many attacks on what Durebang is doing for these women. Some people say that this organization is just fighting against the USA and its army. However this is entirely untrue. This organization actually understands that the US government has done everything they can to put legislation in place to prevent the army from getting involved with the sex industry. However, it is the Korean government that refuses to be vigilant to this problem. They are not keen on enforcing harsher and stricter punishments or supervision. They say that this is a necessary constituent of Korean society. Another common attack from opposition of Durebang is that they have a hatred towards Caucasians. This is ridiculous as we all know that the US army does not solely consist of Caucasians, especially in South Korea. Besides, it is no secret that Korean men are the number one seekers of prostitutes in Korea. However this organization chooses to specialize in helping the foreign women who don’t have a voice in the country. Praise the Lord for Soo Mee Park and Durebang.
(Read more in My Sister’s Place (두레방 Durebang ), a Rescue Shelter for Foreign Sex Workers in South Korea [part 2] here.
http://www.durebang.org/htm/e-main.php (English Site)