The 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.
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)