human trafficking

Love Neighbors Mission, a Light Amid the Darkness of the Korean Red Light Districts [part 1]

Posted on Updated on

love neighborLove 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.

pastor choiGod 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.

loveOn 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;
seek justice,
    correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
    plead the widow’s cause.” Isaiah 1:17

Facts Everyone Should Know About the Korean Perception of the Korean Sex Industry

Posted on Updated on

prostitutionThe Korean perception of the Korean sex industry is quite different from others. The most common statements and inquiries I seem to get from fellow Koreans are, “Well, what about the girls who enter the sex industry voluntarily when they’re adults? What about the women who do it to buy luxurious things? They say they love what they do. It’s their own choice. Should I feel sorry for them when they want to work in that industry?” To the modern day abolitionist who has done extensive research into the sex industry and trafficking, these responses could sound very typical. Unfortunately, in the Korean society, especially the Korean American society, these are valid perceptions that people will probably form. Why?

First of all, the bottom line is that whether entered voluntarily or forced into the sex industry, all of these human beings are victims because they are victimized in one way or another, even if some may be unaware of the victimization. Secondly, of course there are many problems to the types of statements above that mostly Koreans seem to make and believe in because not all of the girls who get into the industry voluntarily love what they do. In fact, almost every single sex worker in the industry, who has been rescued or has had the opportunity to leave on their own, has expressed or endured immense regret, shamefulness, embarrassment, stigmatization, depressive disorders, suicidal tendencies, substance abuse, mental and emotional pain, anger, resentment, self-hatred, and rejection from society. Even the prostitutes who fight for the right to sell their bodies, the most famous porn stars in the world, and the strippers who fight for the right to strip down naked all have public personas, where they say they love men, sex, and money. In reality, when they are alone, they have confessed that it is just a public persona that they must portray at all times in order to continue earning a living and keeping their guards up.

On the other hand, these skewed Korean perceptions that the sex industry workers love what they do could be seen as valid to a certain extent. The reason is because there are so many young Korean girls, who come from good families, getting into the industry willingly in Korean communities. We see them driving in super luxurious cars and living in fancy high-rise apartments, carrying and wearing expensive, fashionable items, buying whatever they want, living a normal life during the day and carrying on a secretive life in the sex industry at night. Do I believe that some of these women ruin it for the rest of the sex slaves? Yes, of course. But we cannot separate these two types of sex workers and simply label one group as greedy, sex addicts and the other as forced sex slaves. All of these women are victims of the pitfalls of the sex industry. And many who enter voluntarily end up realizing they cannot leave voluntarily when they wish to. This is not only in the physical sense. We must also understand that there are millions who are involuntarily getting into the industry as well. These women and children are forced into physical bondage as well as emotional, spiritual, and mental bondage. There are many children who escape the industry when they are adults. They have stated that these pimps and madams treat them like family and even warn them against having sex for money. Yet at the same time, they will thrust men into their lives and tell the them to get to know these men. They tell them to go after the money, not the men. Thus, the girls eventually succumb to having sex with these men for money. Sometimes, the pimps and sex establishment business owners will brainwash the child by seemingly caring for them. They will coax the child to become more and more open to devious sex acts using tactics and strategies to make them feel as if they have no other options in life. A number of these victims develop Stockholm Syndrome, which is a psychological effect where hostages and victims develop sympathy and affection towards their traffickers and pimps.

It is much worse for a child who enters voluntarily or who is trafficked against his/her own will into the sex industry. The traction and mind control that a trafficker has over a young child can be very manipulative and atrocious. Many times, traffickers threaten these victims saying that they will be killed, mutilated, and stuffed in the gutter if they pursue an escape from the industry. I have beeThere are also instances where these sex slaves are forcefully given drugs so that when they are eventually rescued, they actually end up going back to the brothels on their own due to the stronghold of the drugs which are overpowering their lives. These girls are being exploited in every which way possible, and the men who frequent these types of establishments either don’t care or are unaware. Let’s make them care! Let’s spread awareness! Even room salons (room bangs) or hostess bars which appear harmless are actually refined brothels. Many of these women who work in these types of establishments in the States are tricked and trafficked into the States under false identities. There is also a growing trend of American women who are getting into this industry for the “quick and easy” money.

Remember–just because there’s a happy-looking girl acting like she wants to have sex with a customer or even stating that she loves her job, nine out of ten times, this is a façade.

This also trickles into the porn industry as well as strip clubs and online sex chat rooms. Sexual exploitation makes up 79% of human trafficking, including forced stripping, pornography, massage services, and prostitution. Behind closed doors, these sex slaves live in terror, shame, guilt, fear, and without any hope. They are the most vulnerable humans on Earth. We must spread the word to help stop this injustice from continuing on! The complete abolition of sex trafficking in our lifetime is imperative and affects each and every person in the world today.

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

Posted on Updated on

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.

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:

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)