Filipinas forced into prostitution on the rise in S.Korea

Posted on : 2009-12-01 12:12 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Analysts say South Korea’s status as a signatory to UN protocol requires the government to take stronger measures against human trafficking
 Gyeonggi Province where only foreigners are permitted. It has been reported that many Filipinas work in this neighborhood.
Gyeonggi Province where only foreigners are permitted. It has been reported that many Filipinas work in this neighborhood.

“I cannot move. Help me.”

The text message came through on Nov. 8 to the cell phone of 28-year-old “Jenny,” who was staying at Durebang (My Sister’s Place), a center founded to support women who have been engaged in prostitution near U.S. military bases. It was from her friend, 28-year-old “Lorelei” (not her real name), who was trapped at “B,” a prostitution establishment for foreigners, located in the Okpo neighborhood of Geoje City, South Gyeongsang Province. In the early morning hour of a day in late October, Jenny herself had been able to escape from the same place and after some consideration decided to ask the police for help. Early in the morning on Nov. 15, journalists from the Hankyoreh accompanied Jenny and the police to that establishment to find Lorelei, but the owner feigned ignorance and claimed there was no one there who fit that description.

While they were on site, another text message arrived from Lorelei that said, “I am trapped in the dormitory now.” The group hurried over to the second floor of a commercial building located nearby. When the police knocked on the door, a Filipina came running out in bare feet. The two friends embraced each other tightly.

The two women came to South Korea last March on E-6 “Arts and Performance” visas. Initially, they had intended to give stage performances, but neither of them ever gave a performance. Instead, they were forced to serve drinks and prostitute themselves to customers. The number of Filipinas entering the country on E-6 visas has increased annually, reaching 2,001 in 2008, but many are reportedly being forced into pouring drinks and providing sexual services for clients.

On the evening of Nov. 20, around ten Filipina dressed in thin, revealing clothes conversed with foreigners at another “B,” an establishment near the Osan Air base in Pyeongtaek. “Melissa,” a 20-year-old Filipina said, “The mamasang (proprietor) forces me to meet my quota [of drink sales].” She added, “I want to run away from this club.”

The proprietors give the women a quota of 200 to 500 glasses of drink sales a month and if they fail to meet it, they are forced to pay a “bar fine,” a kind of prostitution service. The U.S. soldiers refer to them as “juicy girls” and “drinking girls.” Park Su-mi, director of My Sister’s Place, said, “Most of the Filipinas who come to South Korea on E-6 visas find themselves pouring drinks and providing prostitution services at foreigners’ establishments in Dongducheon or Pyeongtaek near the U.S. military bases.”

After prostitution of Russian women entering the country on arts and performance visas exploded as a major social issue in 2003, the South Korean government completely discontinued issuing the visas to women from Russia. In turn, prostitution businesses began making use of arts and performance visas to bring in women from the Philippines as a strategy to survive. Human rights groups are calling this a “clear case of human trafficking” and are urging the government to take measures with little response. An official in the office of the spokesperson for the Justice Ministry appeared less certain about what is taking place in these bars and said, “It would realistically be difficult for us with our limited personnel to review all of the businesses engaging in illegal activities.”

Kim Hee-jin, director of Amnesty International’s South Korean section, says that human trafficking is strictly forbidden by a United Nations protocol of which the South Korean government is a signatory. Kim says, “Since Filipinas are clearly being subjected to human trafficking, the government needs to take strong countermeasures.”

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