Extra! Korea

May 19, 2011

Prostitutes protest for their right to a livelihood

Filed under: prostitution — extrakorea @ 12:52 pm

On Sunday, May 15th, dozens of prostitutes wearing white surgical masks and red caps held a three-hour protest in front of Times Square, a shopping mall in front of Yeongdeungpo, Seoul.

The opening of Times Square forced the closing of 30 brothels, so that only about 50 remain. The prostitutes criticized the looming possible closure of the remaining brothels.

“What can we do if the government drives us out of our job? This job is the last option for us, and there is no alternative,” 29-year-old Kim Eun-jung (alias) working in a brothel in Yeongdeungpo told The Korea Times.

“It’s a matter of survival for us.”

They also claimed that crackdowns only force the business underground, whereby exploitation becomes a more serious problem, and criticized efforts at rehabilitation by the government as half-hearted and inadequate.

Last Wednesday [May 11th], they also held a press conference at the Korea Press Center in central Seoul, asking for the abolishment or revision of the 2004 Act on the Prevention of the Sex Trade and Protection of its Victims, which reinforced penalties for prostitution.

[ … snip … ]

Prostitutes argue that the law fails to reflect the reality and will only worsen the situation.

“The special law fails to reflect the reality. It can’t root out prostitution, but rather pushes the sex trade further underground,” Kim said.

“As such, sex workers can be exploited. A lot of Korean prostitutes choose to go abroad to work, where their human rights can be easily violated and they have to work without proper protection.”

[ … snip … ]

She also criticized the government’s efforts to help sex workers change their jobs.

“We also want to change our jobs. But the subsidy of 400,000 won a month and the rehabilitation programs proposed by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family are too unrealistic to reflect our situation,” Kim said.

They also acknowledged that the present red-light districts are unsightly and that it’s understandable to want to remove them, but that their business should be regulated, not outlawed.

Sex workers believe proper regulation is necessary instead of “meaningless” efforts to outlaw prostitution.

“We also know the big brothel districts in Seoul are an eyesore, which need to be removed, but we also need to survive,” said Kang Hyun-jin, director of the Hanteoh Women Workers Federation (HWWF), a nationwide group of prostitutes.

“The special law can’t root out prostitution, which I personally think is impossible,” Kang said, citing a survey result.

[ … snip … ]

“Our demand is that the special law should be amended to reflect the reality and the government should properly regulate prostitution so that it can take place in designated areas, which aren’t necessarily central areas of the city, and we think it can minimize the negative aspects of prostitution,” Kang said.

On Tuesday afternoon, another protest was held, and this time the demonstrators (numbering about 450 this time) wore white funeral clothes, garish red paint, or makeup that made them look like Heath Ledger’s version of the Joker.

Yeongdeungpo isn’t the only district experiencing persecution.

Pimps in Cheongnyangni in the northeastern part of Seoul have clashed with police as they try to pick up customers in front of a major department store nearby.

Those pimps aren’t guys dressed in purple jackets and feathered hats. They’re ajummas, and as you know, you don’t get between an ajumma and her livelihood if you want your nads intact.

As I’ve written about before, the reason for these closures isn’t “moral outrage,” but the fact that these areas now sit on very valuable land.

A decade ago, the price of real estate for 3.3 sq. m of land around the red light district in Yongsan was W30-50 million (US$1=W1,090). Now, it has soared to more than W150 million. A 54-story skyscraper and a sprawling apartment complex are scheduled to be built in the red light district area in Cheongnyangni, while 35 and 40-story buildings will be built in Yongsan.

[ … snip … ]

The red light district in front of Yongsan Station near central Seoul used to house around 120 brothels, but only six or seven remain and even they will be shut down next month.

Cheongnyangni is also sitting on valuable land, which is right next to large shopping malls and an E-Mart (Korea’s version of Wall-Mart).

I think the determination being shown in these protests might have to do with the way that Yongsan was closed down with nary a whimper. I guess the sex workers figure that they had better draw a line in the sand, or else Yeongdeungpo will be next, followed by Cheongnyangni.

These red-light districts have been around since at least the early 1970s. The following is from page 137 of Michael Breen’s The Koreans:

“It was during the first ever North-South talks in Seoul in the early 1970s.

[ … snip … ]

Obviously the cars carrying the North Korean officials did not swing through the red-light areas, nor the poor districts, nor past the huge American military base near the center of the city.”

I think that they were amongst the first areas built up during the post-war reconstruction. The buildings are old-style (e.g. arched tiles on the roofs). They are/were located near major train stations, which would have been the most important transportation infrastructure after the Korean War. Cheongnyangni and Yongsan are major train stations. There was a brothel area near Seoul station. Other cities like Daejeon have brothel districts near their train stations.

Here is a quote from Kang Hyun-jin that I found interesting.

“In the past, officials from ward offices used to visit us to teach us English so that we could serve U.S. soldiers when there were big military drills taking place. They boosted the business to earn dollars, and now they try to abolish it all of sudden because they believe we are a rich country.”

I think that Park Chung-hee once referred to such sex workers as “patriots” because of the way they earned American dollars for Korea. I think I read that in Micheal Breen’s writings, but I can’t find it.

Interestingly, the first article that I linked to was written by Kim Tae-jong, who wrote a previous article that I discussed before.

May 10, 2011

Seven bar “hostesses” have committed suicide since July

Filed under: celebrities, drinking, gender equality, music, prostitution, suicide — extrakorea @ 12:56 pm

On March 24th, a young woman committed suicide, the seventh bar “hostess” (known as “jeopdaebu,”) to do so since last July.

In a suicide note, the 27-year-old said she was forced to have sex against her will and was no longer able to stand the abuse from customers and the bar owner.

Apparently, she was not able to quit because of a “slave contract.” In such bars, the owners are, or are connected to, loan sharks who lend out money at excessively high interest rates.

In the article, it is subtly hinted that the recent crackdowns on prostitution may have actually exacerbated the situation by forcing prostitution underground, leading to the exploitation of women who, unlike those in red-light districts such as Chongyangni and the now-defunct Yongsan, never had any intention of becoming prostitutes.

As shown in the crackdown by the Pohang Police, the sex industry has developed into a well-organized business run by bar owners, gangsters and loan sharks who exploit the women, they say.

Many of them first start working at a bar or club to earn “easy money” without knowing it will put them in a trap from which they can’t get out, they say.

“Most of these hostesses regret starting the job,” Lee Jung-mi, the head of the Korean Shelter for Women, said. “They first thought they would make a lot of money by simply talking to male customers at bars or karaoke, serving drinks and singing for them. But the reality is they are forced to sell sex and they can’t say no due to money they have been loaned in advance.”

Here is a statistic that, if true, is interesting:

According to Statistics Korea, one out of 60 economically-active women work in bars, clubs and karaoke rooms, or in red light districts.

Also, in case you were wondering, the Korean music industry, despite all the rhetoric since the suicide of Jang Ja-yeon, still harbors sexual exploitation. Here is a report from this past February, in which journalists went under cover to find out what happens to young trainees.

The trainee was also asked to call the director of her agency without alerting him that he was being recorded. When asked about the contract fee she was forced to pay, he replied, “There are no agencies these days that support you financially 100%. Since we do support you 100%, don’t leave us. Even if you say that we forced you to provide sexual favors, you really have nothing to say in the end.”

Upon hearing his shocking statement, reporters visited the agency themselves while hiding their cameras. They found that the agency, on the outside, looked no different from any other agencies, and when asked to name the celebrities they housed, they had no trouble listing the names.

[ … ]

Another trainee hoping to become an actress later gave her own account, revealing, “The agency said they were looking for a small role and wanted to meet me in person. They instead dragged me to their home and force fed me various drinks, claiming that they needed to check my limit. After a while, they taped my mouth shut so that I couldn’t scream, and further claimed that in order to become a celebrity, I needed to have sex with him.”

What was even more shocking for viewers was that this all happened before she entered her third year of junior high school.

November 4, 2010

Netizens apoplectic with fury at suggestion that Girls’ Generation may have done sexual favors

Filed under: celebrities, music, prostitution, youth — extrakorea @ 10:27 am

A Taiwanese television show had an program in which they discussed the notion that some female celebrities in South Korea do sexual favors as a way to get ahead, or have it virtually forced on them. Taiwanese singer Estrella Lin, who has previously spoken about her experiences in Korea, was a guest speaker. Unfortunately for them, they used an image of Girls’ Generation, and Korean Internet surfers, “netizens,” are furious. I mean, they’re absolutely apoplectic with fury. The AllKpop post on the topic has over a thousand comments, with new ones arriving literally every thirty seconds, and the YouTube video of the program (below) rising by the hundreds every hour.

It seems that there may have been two problems:
1. While AllKpop may have done a decent job of translating Sports Chosun’s piece, Chosun may have mistranslated the original Chinese.
2. The TV program may have gotten its image of Girls’ Generation from a Taiwanese newspaper. If so, then it might be the newspaper who ought to shoulder the blame.

I’m wondering this: Where was this fury when Jang Ja-yeon committed suicide? Where was the fury when it became known that her ex-manager faces a maximum of one year in prison? How about when it became known that an SM Entertainment manager could have literally killed a member of boy band Super Junior? How about when another entertainment agency seemed to admit to forcing an underage trainee into virtual prostitution? How about any of the other examples of trainees’ mistreatment? Or how about the recent survey that suggests that over 60% of female entertainers are pressured into giving sexual favors? But slander some pretty girls, and the rage is like an inferno. I’m glad to see that some people have their priorities straight.

While I’m at it, I might as well express my incomprehension as to why K-pop fans are cheerleaders for entertainment agencies.  Can you imagine the following conversation between three teenagers in America?

A: I like Interscope Records.

B: No way!  Sony Music is the best!

C: You both have your heads up your arses!  Warner Brothers all the way!

Ridiculous, huh?  When I was a teenager, we talked about which artists we liked.  However, K-pop fans will get into heated debates over whether they like YG Entertainment or SM Entertainment better.

October 28, 2010

Going Soon: Yongsan’s red-light district

Filed under: economics, gender equality, hard to categorize, prostitution — extrakorea @ 7:57 am

The area around Yongsan train/subway station is currently being redeveloped. People and businesses are being moved, sometimes unwillingly, either because they have no other place to go or because they feel that they are not being compensated fairly. (The value of the land has gone up to the point that it’s more expensive than some parts of the wealthy Gangnam district of Seoul.) At the beginning of 2009, there was a violent protest that resulted in six lives lost.


Literally across the street from those protests is Yongsan’s red-light district. It’s been known since early 2009 that its days were numbered. Even though the development plans have been put in jeopardy by the sundering of the partnership* between the railroad operator that owns the land, Korail, and Samsung C&T, the company that would have led in financing and construction of the development project, the plans to close down and redevelop the area have gone ahead. Word is that it will be gone within a week.

* See here, here, here, and here.

October 27, 2010

Nearly one-third of teenagers would consider exchanging money for sex

Filed under: gender equality, prostitution, youth — extrakorea @ 2:59 pm

The Women’s Human Rights Commission of Korea (WHRCK) recently surveyed 2,894 teenagers this past June and July about their attitudes regarding sex. One finding was that nearly one-third of them would consider exchanging money for sex.

A total of 1,891 or 66.9 percent said they would “reject” having sex for money.

Eighteen percent of the respondents said they would take money “depending on the situation”; 3.5 percent said they definitely would take it; and 11.5 percent said they were “unsure.”

Some reported that they had experienced such exchanges and had set them up through Internet chatting, which is how this adolescent met her “clients.”

Teenager had unprotected sex with men knowing she was HIV positive

Filed under: gender equality, health, prostitution, youth — extrakorea @ 9:20 am

Police in Busan have arrested a 19-year-old* girl, Ahn, who had sex with 20 men despite knowing that she was HIV positive. It looks like she was engaging in “wonjo kyoje” (원조교제), so-called “compensated dating,” in which men pay schoolgirls for sex. The kicker in this story?

She [Ahn] reportedly said that she suggested using condoms, but they refused to do so.

(emphasis mine)

What could be the cause of such a rash attitude? Lack of sex eduction? Naivity? The desire to experience the “full pleasure”? I bet Grand Narrative could write a lengthy post.

* I’m not sure if this is by East Asian age or international age. If the former, she could be as young as 17.

October 15, 2010

Jang Ja-yeon’s former manager faces a maximum of one year in jail

Filed under: actors/actresses, crime, gender equality, prostitution, suicide — extrakorea @ 2:34 pm

Jang Ja-yeon was a young actress who committed suicide on March 8, 2009. In her suicide note, she described how her former manager, Kim Sung-hoon, beat her up, embezzled money that she had earned, threatened her and her friends, and forced her to sleep with directors, executives, and CEOs. Kim fled to Japan but was caught and extradited. The trail has begun, and he faces a maximum of one year in jail. Verdict hearings will begin on October 29th.

One year? That’s it? He abused a young woman terribly, and probably drove her to suicide, and that’s the maximum punishment that he’s facing? Something isn’t right.

October 13, 2010

Did H-Line Entertainment obliquely admit to pimping out an underage trainee?

Filed under: crime, gender equality, music, prostitution, youth — extrakorea @ 4:47 am

Recently, “Kim,” the CEO of an entertainment company, referred to as “H,” was accused of pressuring two of his trainees, aged 17 and 20, to perform sexual services for the owner of a clothing company.  After doing this over ten times, one of the trainees (the 17-year-old, I believe) tried to refuse, but the CEO forced her to continue, saying,

“If you don’t show up for work, you will be paying an extreme amount of penalties.”

Some trainees are under very stringent contracts, some as long as 13 years. Some contracts stipulate that if the trainee quits or is let go, they have to pay back the costs that the company has spent on their training, housing, etc so far, or would have spent on them had they continued onto a successful debut.

The clothing company owner gave Kim $46,000 US for “sponsorship expenses” of which Kim kept $30,000 for himself.

Kim rejected all claims by stating that the money in question was earned from his shopping mall, and not from forcing the two trainees into sexual acts. Authorities investigated his bank account, however, and found that he was deceiving them, as they failed to find any connections between the shopping mall and the amount held in his account.

Internet surfers, called “netizens” in Korea, began trying to discover the identities of H and the two trainees. Many of them believe that H is H-Line Entertainment, and that the two trainees are members of the new girl group Chocolate. Two of Chocolate’s members, Cheryl and Meng, are the correct ages, 17 and 20. Furthermore, back in August, Chocolate, which had not yet even debuted, managed to secure a prestigious endorsement deal with a clothing brand, NUZZON.

Since then, Cheryl and Meng have spoken publicly about the issue, denying that they are the trainees in question. Their company backed them up, stating:

The two girls mentioned, ‘A’ and ‘B,’ were former trainees, and have already left the company. They are definitely not Cheryl and Meng.

Wait a minute. Did they obliquely confirm that they did in fact pimp out two of their trainees (one of them underage), just not specifically Cheryl and Meng?

October 6, 2010

Age of sex offenders and their victims keeps getting lower

Filed under: crime, prostitution, youth — extrakorea @ 11:22 am

For the last two years, the age of people who committed sexual crimes against minors, and their victims, has been getting lower.

The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family on Monday said a study of 879 people convicted of sex crimes against minors last year revealed that the age of offenders and victims dropped by 1.7-1.8 years from the previous year.

Among 879 offenders, 76 were younger than 19, up from 45 in 2008. This lowered the average age of offenders from 35.5 years in 2008 to 33.7 years last year.

The average age of victims dropped from 14.4 years in 2008 to 12.7 years in 2009. Rape victims were 14 on average, sexual assault victims 11.4 and those involved in the sex trade 13.2.

Cat killer sentenced to four months in prison, was a room salon girl

Filed under: crime, prostitution — extrakorea @ 11:05 am

Remember the young woman who killed her neighbor’s cat by throwing it out of a 10th-story window? She’s been sentenced to a suspended four-month prison term.

When she was found out, largely due to video camera surveillance footage, she claimed that she was drunk at the time. (Of course, that is no excuse, but this is Korea, where, “I was drunk,” is one of the most popular defenses for all sorts of inexcusable behavior, including raping children.) But maybe she really was intoxicated.

The defendant, an employee of a hostess bar, was drunk at the time, according to a complaint filed to the prosecution.

(emphasis mine)

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