Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"Sex Industry in Korea Today"

Cho Ji Young (조지뎡), 43, is the founder of Dasimihamgye (spelling), meaning "Together Again". Ms. Cho has been working on the sex trafficking issue for 11 years, providing assistance, information and rescue for women in sex trafficking. Her awareness of a serious sex problem in Korea occured when on a field trip and was shown a horrific picture of Yoon Geum-i (윤금이), a prostitute working the clubs around US military camptowns and who had been brutally murdered in 1992. She was surprised such things happened in Korea because even as a Korean, she had NEVER heard of this brutal murder case through any media. There had been many other camptown murders, and all had been basically buried until this particular murder when people started to take this photo around the Chongno area, and show passersby, and how Ms. Cho saw the picture. However, Koreans were fearful of pointing the finger at the US military because of the "need" for American military presence to stave off an invasion from North Korea. However, with this utterly brutal murder, people started demanding that SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) regulations be changed. (SOFA disallows American soldiers being tried in a Korean court, even if the soldier committed a crime in Korea and with hurtful results to a Korean.)

The above picture of Yoon Geum-i, age 28, was taken after her brutalization. She had a coke bottle and an umbrella piercing her anus and two beer bottles shoved up into her uterus. Having many bruises and cuts on her body and a mouth shoved full of broken matchsticks to hide further violence, she had been liberally sprinkled with laundry detergent and abandoned. Cause of death was reportedly from bleeding and collapse of organs. This crime committed by an American military man has been one of the hottest issues raised against the US since the Korean war. Wikipedia offers more on the topic.

Camptown Women

A camptown woman is a euphemism for a prostitute working around the American military camps. According to Cho Ji Young, the US military men use women's bodies with the silent support of the Korean government, as the Korean government could but doesn't shut down such areas but regulates the areas by registering the women [Doesn't registering a woman as a prostitute constitute condoning sexual practices, alternatively called "prostitution" when prostitution is supposed to be illegal? Wouldn't this legalize illegal prostitution?] Like in every place where war is happening and/or men are gathered as instruments of war, women's bodies are part of the war!

As the Korean economy has developed, so has the Korean sex industry. In the 1990s three phenomenons happened:

(1) Koreans started avoiding 3D (dirty, difficult and dangerous) jobs. Prostitution fell in this category, for especially after the murder of Yoon Geum-i, Korean girls were fearful of operating around US camptowns. So migrant workers were suddenly needed, and the E-6 visa or entertainment visa was created. Migrant women were given "legal" status to come to work on the entertainment visa as dancers, singers, etc but which ultimately was a cover-up for the sex industry that they were usually unknowingly thrust into. The government was and is well aware that these girls were hired as singers, etc but because sex workers are needed and falls under the category of "entertainer" the government justifies the workers legality within Korea.

(2) The American dream was broken. Until the 1990s many Korean women had the American dream of marrying a US soldier and being taken care of in the land of great opportunities. However, women who had married American soldiers were starting to return to Korea; many had drug addictions, some had worked in sex towns or had broader sexual relationships in the US and Korea was realizing that the American soldier was not a step upward.

(3) The domestic sex industry expanded to the broader Korean society so improverished, runaways and other Korean women no longer had to service the US military club scenes known for violence but could work away from the camptown scenes and actually make more of a profit. So at the club, the owners requested women to work with the agreement that military men could have sex (often resulting in rape) with women if there weren't enough women to service their needs ...

The big result of these changing circumstances was the creation of the E-6 visa ... and women's bodies became once again objects controlled by economics and politics and strongly influences by the social foundation of patriarchy where men make determining decisions concerning women.

The First 2 Days of Work for Cho Ji Young:

Day 1: I got a call from a father asking me to help him find his daughter who had left home a week before. She called her father the previous night night saying she was calling from a customer's phone in Sungnam and wanted to say "I miss you." The father pleaded with me to help and said that the police were not helping and she (Cho Ji Young) was the last resort. I didn't know what I could do but I agreed to try. I called the police and asked for their help. They said, "Where's the brothel?" I told them, "If I knew where it was, I wouldn't be needing your help! Can't you trace the brothel by asking the guy, his number is saved in the father's phone?" The police said that was illegal ... but long story, they finally did that and were able to locate the brothel. Then they went through all the registrations of the girls working in that brothel (the records are needed to enforce the girls getting regular testing for STDs, etc) and easily found her. Argh, Cho Ji Young wanted to scream, "How can the government control the sex industry!" There was a prohibition of WOMEN selling their bodies, but NOT on men, so the government feels justified in keeping these records. [The logic eludes me!]

Anyway, so there was a raid on the brothel and the girl was brought out. The police tried to send her home but she refused because she said there was a disabled woman in there who was brutally abused and the girl wouldn't go home until that woman was released too. So, the police went in and rescued her and then started investigating about her abuse case. The woman had obviously had physical and emotional trauma and adamantly refused to admit anything incriminating against the owner. "I never provided sexual services. I love the owner. I'm like a father and a mother to him." Surprisingly the owner confessed to his abusive actions but the woman would not.

Day 2: To bring charges against the ownder, my second day of work I had to sit down with the woman and try to convince her to admit the truth. Around and around we went all day, me pleading, her denying. But after she finally realized she wouldn't have to return to that brothel, she admitted to many kinds of punishment. Because she was slower than the rest, she was not popular among the men and failed to meet up to the demanding standards of the owner, so she had to hold her hands over her head for long painful extended periods of time, or she was beaten with a bar of soap wrapped in towels or a sock so no bruises would show up but the pain could still be inflicted. "It was a long second day too .... and that was my introduction to working to help some of the women caught in the sex industry."

Functions of Dasimihamgye (spelling)

In 2004 Dasimihamkgye tried to get legislation to prohibit sex trafficking, and so set up the Dasimihamgye center to help women "trapped" in the system because of the debt created by the women. Example of debt -- when women take a taxi to get to the new job, unknowingly it's a brothel, the pimp pays and the debt is added to the woman's account of what she must pay off to get out of the system, but high interest rates, fines for not meeting quotas, food and lodging charges accumulate keeping the girl in a down-spiral of debt, and so if she runs away, the police just bring her back because the pimp can show that the girl is bound to him through debt. Dasimihamgye did accomplish one great success in helping the girls, and that was the elimination of the debt system! Since the elimination of that system, workers can also be better paid. Where before in the red-light district, alternatively known as the "glass rooms", a 15-minute visit would cost the patron ₩60,000 or for an hour in the massage parlors ₩160,000, the sex worker would get perhaps 10% of that fee, but with Dasimihamgye's fighting for workers' equal rights, the workers can get as much as 50%.

Dasimihamgye also provides medical and counselling service for these women because many of these women have physical and/or psychological problems and no way to pay for help.

Dasimihamgye provides a home for these girls escaping the system. In the center they can get job training for other more socially acceptable jobs so they are not "forced" to return to prostitution for income. Safe houses are also provided in the event the girls are in a very threatening situation, for instance, if they were to provide trial evidence.

Dasimihamgye also hosts educational campaigns for raising public awareness of how dire the sex industry problem really is within the Korean society. Their goal is to make people take a more proactive stance and not disregard the topic as not one of significant social relevance to society as a whole or to out-of-balance functioning of women being exploited for men's pleasure. Cho Ji Young said that the scope of the Korean sex industry is beyond what anyone can really imagine, it is HUGE within Korea. To illustrate her point, she told of going to rescue a girl on Hongdo Island, a place with a population of 500 residents and 4 kareokes staffed with prostitutes. Now why would 500 people, perhaps half of whom are women, need 4 kareokes for prostitution?! If this sex industry is as hungry as the residents on Hongdo Island, which Cho Ji Young thinks it is, then Korea has a mega-serious sex industry with women's bodies as the medium for social entertainment.

Cho Ji Young concluded her workshop time with the statement that the comfort woman system (of the past), the camptown system and the sex trafficking system (the latter two of the present) are based on the same principle -- the exploitation of women's bodies by military and/or government organizations (predominantly dominated by men) but affecting women on the physical and emotional levels.

Final comment: Koreans are pretty proud of the "fact" that sex trafficking does not exist in Korea. What a huge misconception! Sex trafficking has been legalized for political and economic reasons by the government through various means, one in particular the E-6 visa, or it is overlooked. Koreans now are big on taking social issues to the press and demanding changes, but this only happends when voices are collectively raised after awareness has been made on the matter. Dasimihamgye is endeavoring to raise attention to the problem that sex trafficking does indeed exist in Korea!

1 comment:

  1. I lived with two innocent looking, Catholic, educated Korean ladies in two different relationships. They turn out to be violent persons destroying the house, trying to get my money to go shopping, staying in the apartment and sleeping until late doing nothing in the house, going out to drink with their friends until late night with my money and when I tried to kick them out of the house they tried to black mail me stating that they will call the police and say that I abused them physically..., imagine the stress I lived during those times. I am fully aware that no all Korean woman are not interested into just going out shopping and controlling their husbands' hard earned money nor buy expensive cars but some are when they target a foreigner. Most of them lack personal hygiene and just take cat baths by wetting a towel and rubbing it in the body, no showers while it is cold very nasty mentality while Filipinas might be poor and least attractive than Koreans but, they wash their bodies 2 to 3 times daily, clean the house, cook and when you go home they clean and nice smelling