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)
The majority of sex trafficked girls in Korea who attempt to get out of the sex industry after years of victimization, do so between the ages of twenty to thirty years old, according to the statistics posted on the anti-sex trafficking division of the Korean Salvation Army website. This is due to the lack of demand for “older” women whereas children and younger women are much more desired in the sex industry. In its 2010 report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said Korean men were the prime clients of child prostitutes in Korea, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. The U.S. State Department’s annual report on human trafficking also points to Korean men as being the main clients of child prostitutes in Southeast Asia and Pacific islands.
- Once a girl gets into or is placed into the sex industry, the desire to escape another undesirable situation, far worse than what they have come from, is eminent and just a matter of time. However, as easy as it was to escape their initial situations, they find it almost impossible to do so this time around.
- Once departure is attempted, the victims are taken captive through coercion using violence, sexual assault, and debt. Continuously extending the victims’ debts is one of the most commonly used methods by traffickers and pimps in order to restrain them from leaving.
- For many who do escape, they become trapped within their own shame, loss of hope, trauma, drug addiction, lack of employment options, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
- There is also a lack of sympathy towards these victims once they are out due to a lack of understanding as to why there is a need to help these women. Most authorities view these women as violators of the law rather than victims. Furthermore, there is a lack of prevention and intervention as well as the inadequacy of protest and voice for victims of trafficking. More action on preventative measures and harsher legislation for sex trafficking is necessary.
- Due to the silencing of topics such as sex trafficking or male violence against women, there is a noticeable absence in the empowerment of women within all age groups especially in many Korean churches, which result in a type of latency in the Korean community. Not only has the intense educational stance and vigorous academic exercise forced upon young students by most parents in Korea have contributed to increased sex trafficking victimization, the country also has the second highest rate of suicides in the world.
- In Korea, a punishment for murder is around ten years in prison whereas in another country, it would be a life term. Similarly, the laws for women’s rights are intact however there are no serious ramifications for domestic violence. Male violence against women, especially in a hegemonic and patriarchal society such as the one in Korea transcends into increased sex trafficking with more sex victims who are still in their youths.
- Churches in Korea can do more within this realm by taking action with legislators to not only create but also enforce harsher laws for crimes of domestic violence than the ones in place. 
- Engaging with legislators is essential as the Korean government will not take initiative towards finding a solution to domestic violence or sex trafficking since they do not view these as urgent or significant problems. As Korea continues to progress and grow as a nation, the sex trafficking industry is also flourishing.
- Because Koreans were so poor only a few decades ago, money is still a fairly new concept to the country. No one wants to go back to being a third world country therefore people are overworked and turn to the sex industry as an outlet for their high level of stress.
- During the Korean War, the Korean government wanted to relieve and keep up the morale of the American troops who were deployed into South Korea to help them. So, the government lured women into brothels in areas called Kijichon and Yong Ju Gol where most American army bases were located. Forced and voluntary prostitution in militarism resulted in new terms for women such as Western Princesses, Comfort Women, and Juicy Girls. After the war was over and the troops headed home, the brothels remained open and continued to thrive with the locals and tourists as years passed. Today, it is one of the largest red light districts with huge parking lots that accommodate visitors and customers. The land on which these brothels sit on are owned by the Korean federal government who does nothing to shut these places down as many of them are most likely customers themselves or have been in the past.
- This issue with the American soldiers who are in Korea mimics the past and brings back the old ghosts of the “comfort women” who were forced into sex slavery for the Japanese soldiers. The only difference between these two instances is that with the most current occurrences, the Korean government has direct involvement in encouraging the Korean women of the nation to submit to the American soldiers in order to keep them satisfied in the country for as long as possible. Nothing has been done to rectify this predicament, and churches in that area have not addressed this problematic situation. An article from the NY Times has stated:
Many former prostitutes live in the camp towns, isolated from mainstream society, which shuns them. Most are poor. Some are haunted by the memories of the mixed-race children they put up for adoption overseas.
Jeon, 71, who agreed to talk only if she was identified by just her surname, said she was an 18-year-old war orphan in 1956 when hunger drove her to Dongduchon, a camp town near the border with North Korea. She had a son in the 1960s, but she became convinced that he would have a better future in the United States and gave him up for adoption when he was 13.
About 10 years ago, her son, now an American soldier, returned to visit. She told him to forget her.
“I failed as a mother,” said Ms. Jeon, who lives on welfare checks and the little cash she earns selling items she picks from other people’s trash. “I have no right to depend on him now.”
“The more I think about my life, the more I think women like me were the biggest sacrifice for my country’s alliance with the Americans,” she said. “Looking back, I think my body was not mine, but the government’s and the U.S. military’s.”
- Typically, the government’s stance on the domestic violence and sex trafficking issues are not those of abolition but more towards decreasing the spreading of sexual diseases between sex workers.
- Prostitution is illegal in South Korea, and the government has verbalized the need to recognize the women as victims and not perpetrators. However these victimized women who need mental, medical, emotional, and post-trauma relief once they have been released from bondage have had to endure harsh stigmatization, depression, rejection from society, shame, and prosecution for violating laws.
- As for the service towards the American troops stationed in Korea, no word yet on any type of retribution or rehabilitation for the women who were coerced into slavery for the “good” of the country.
God, help Korea and the Korean communities around the world.
 in 1997: the Special Act on Domestic Violence (referred to as the “Punishment Act”), and the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Victim Protection Act (“Protection Act”). Once the ‘Punishment Act’ and the ‘Protection Act’ were enacted.
written by gkim
Currently, the majority of Korean and Korean-American churches do not directly address the issues of sex trafficking to their ministry or congregation therefore contributing even more to the societal taboos in the Korean culture. Onnuri English Ministry, led by Pastor Eddie Byun, is one of the only churches in S. Korea that adamantly prays for and incorporates this issue into their ministry duties as well as during the weekly sermons. Onnuri English Ministry’s justice ministry Hope Be Restored, which Pastor Eddie Byun founded, is a model for how other churches can set up their own justice ministries.
Korean and Korean-American churches must adopt the positions of initial prevention or intervention as the government policies which are in place fail to effectively do so. More responsibility should be taken upon by and distributed amongst the ministry to expose these issues by implementing systematic guidelines and discussion openly and outwardly with its congregation on a regular basis. This is essentially necessary for the Korean society which has become so immersed into the sex industry that it’s practically a silent part of the culture. Relying on the government to take on this task is effective only to a certain point. Although the U.S. government has taken increased measures on eradicating and eliminating the trafficking industry, the sex industry itself is growing out of control. Also government officials can only go so far with aftercare. God heals people. People cannot heal each other. But we can help others become closer to God so that they may be healed. The church can increase awareness within youth to adult age groups as well as through outreach programs incorporating detailed education of the dangers and consequences of sex trafficking . It is imperative to incorporate these types of teachings in the church as pedagogies do not yet do so in Korea. The church needs to place more emphasis on the sanctity of justice, faith, spirituality, and divinity by starkly contrasting these virtues over elitist education, economic status, materialism, and competition in the Korean society. Educating the youth about the sacredness of virginity in both males and females is also necessary however with the current statistical data, it is clear that there must be a much more aggressive approach to educating men about the sanctity of virginity and marriage as Korean men are the number one seekers of child prostitutes in Asia according to the U.S. State Department’s annual report on human trafficking. Since the church is silent in regards to sexual matters, and sex talks are usually taboo in the general Korean society, it becomes problematic for the future of Korea. When the church does not address current societal issues about the sex industry, the industry then grows and becomes more sustainable and resilient against the small population of abolitionists who are working to fight against the violence against women within modern day slavery. Young Christians especially need to be educated separately in an orientation on a regular basis so that they do not fall into the pitfalls of the sex industry.
Children of Korean descent are confined into a robotic education system starting at a very young age. The stress from an overload of information and highly competitive society actually work against the youth than for them, particularly in many instances of broken or abuse-ridden homes. The church should not only take an educational approach in trying to prevent and decrease the number of teenage runaways by utilizing educational tools in the ecclesia, but the ministry leaders must also be aggressive in meeting with legislators and getting Congress involved to create harsher laws and punishments for violence in the home that instigates children to flee their own homes as well. Churches must be more open and vocal towards violence against women issues period. When churches do not address such issues on a regular basis, this sends a message to the victims of abuse that these types of topics are shameful and should be kept locked in the home. The children who are born into homes with domestic violence become witness to their mothers being subjugated to physical violence and doing nothing about it. Therefore, this contributes to more instability within the children and further escalates the possibilities of running away from home, which thus leads to increased child slavery and sex trafficking. There are many churches that take this one step further and preach about forgiveness and submission on the woman’s part. This results in problems within the home remaining stagnant. It also increases the chances that the children in these families will grow up to be just like their abusive fathers or submissive mothers. This further perpetuates the vicious cycle of teenage runways who end up in the sex industry.
If these issues are openly discussed during sermons on a weekly basis, this can directly target the perpetrators in the church and clearly expose the ramifications for this type of behavior. The ministry needs to make it clear that any type of violence against women will not be tolerated. They should reach out to victims or intervene through the power of divinity openly and outwardly so that female victims may benefit and go through a process of healing from prayer and hearing the word of God.
Victims of sex trafficking who have post-traumatic disorder or other types of mental and emotional trauma typically take three to ten years to adjust and assimilate back into a normal life. This duration can potentially be dramatically decreased through spiritual healing programs in the church. Thus, the church can become a voice for those who are suffering silently. To conclude, through types of sometimes condoned violence against women in Korea, the sex trafficking industry has also quietly been adopted and grown into mainstream culture. The country’s economy and corporate designations have become intertwined with trafficking. Many people may frown upon the fact that a church would take upon such issues and publicize them–saying that the church should only focus on the gospel. But, this is a skewed perception of Christianity. We, as Christians, should show the world what God’s justice and love can do! It is inexcusable that churches do not make it a priority to end modern day slavery in Korean society which is driven by the sex industry. Churches should enforce more education and move towards progression with legislation and outreach through the ministry as this is an ecclesial injustice as well as a social injustice.